walk out: your legs will benefit

My favourite exercise is a walk with my dogs – we’re usually out for an hour or so every day, them trotting along looking for sniffs, me striding out deep in thought. Inevitably though I feel guilty that I’m not putting more effort into my daily activity, especially when a runner flies past.  But now I learn of evidence to suggest that walking – one of the simplest forms of exercise you can do – could be better for us than strenuous jogging. Read on to find out why.

WHAT DOES WALKING DO TO YOUR BODY? 

Regular walking, like most aerobic activities, is good for you because cardiovascular exercise strengthens the heart and lungs, increasing overall fitness. Combined with diet, it can also help with weight loss and muscle tone.  Sports scientists say walking improves muscle endurance as well as muscle strength, especially in the lower body – it’s good for your bones, it helps boost the circulation, and if you keep a brisk pace at moderate to high intensity it can burn the same amount of calories as jogging or running.  Even better, because walking is low impact aerobic activity it doesn’t have the same potential for injury as jogging, yet it offers the same benefits.

If you keep a brisk pace at moderate to high intensity it can burn the same amount of calories as jogging or running.

Osteopaths agree – walking, they say, helps to drain the lower legs of excess fluid and can help prevent varicose veins through the pumping action of the calf muscles. Through the increased supply of oxygen exercise promotes, walking also gets rid of the waste products in the tissues. And because more people are able to walk at a consistent speed than run, it’s a more beneficial form of tissue-cleansing, particularly for the over-50s, for whom jogging can actually cause more problems. Walking is also better for the spine than running because it puts less stress on spinal discs, which also receive minerals and vitamins through the pumping action it causes.  And you can see results from walking reasonably quickly, depending on your level of fitness, age and how often and fast you are walking.

HOW TO DO IT BEST 

Although we learn to walk as infants, very few of us continue to walk correctly through adult hood. For instance, a slight ‘bounce’ while walking not only slows you down, but also places a strain on joints. When taking a step, you should let the heel land first – this heel-to-toe motion makes sense if you think about how your body weight is distributed, and as you take it you should try to make a slight rolling motion inwards to give you more power when you push off with your foot. The result is a faster stride. Walking can burn just as many calories as jogging if you walk with a special technique –

the ‘racewalking wiggle’: if you walk with a slight swivel in your hips with each stride, it makes you move faster.

Yes, it can make you look a little strange but, mile for mile, it uses the same calories as you would if you were jogging. Maintaining your posture also makes a big contribution to the maximum benefits you get from walking. Walk tall, holding your ribcage up and tummy muscles in to get more of a midriff workout, and squeeze our bottom to tighten the gluteus maximus muscles. (Not so tricky to do if you imagine you’re holding a £50 note between the cheeks).

HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU DO IT? 

Government health recommendations are to exercise for 30 minutes daily, for a minimum of five days a week. But you can split the walk into a couple of 15-minute journeys each day or make up for lost time with an extra-long walk at the weekend. Where walking beats other forms of exercise is that there are excellent strategies for boosting the amount you do. For example, getting off at an earlier bus-stop than your usual one will add on a two to three minute walk. That may not sound much, but if you do that twice a day, every day, it all adds up.

HOW TO KEEP IT UP 

There are also psychological benefits to walking. Like any other form of exercise, your body has a chemical release of serotonin, the natural feelgood chemical, when you get active. There is also the release of endorphins, which are happy hormones, which is why people feel on a natural high at the end of an exercise session. And remembering how you feel should be an incentive for you to keep it up.