Heel Thyself: The Benefits of Walking

Categories Lifestyle


Walking is a magic bullet for long-term health, writes John Von Arnim.

There’s no doubt that running seems more manly, burns up more calories and gets your heart pumping faster. But walking regularly helps to lower your blood pressure, reduce your risk of stroke and more. An hour of moderately intense walking has a similar weight loss effect to half an hour of solid running and there’s no risk of mashing your knees or other injuries. You don’t even have to set aside a full 60 minutes in one go, either. Four 15 minute fast walks a day really do add up to a significantly improve your health. One of the real advantages of choosing walking over running is psychological. How many times have you made a New Year’s resolution to start running, bought the gear and then dropped the idea by the end of January? The real truth is that the first week of pushing your heart rate up to 150 beats a minute is a lot more strenuous than you thought. When you take up walking, though, a heart rate of 80 to 100 beats is more manageable, you don’t end up red-faced, sweating or worrying about passers-by laughing at your running style.

Increase your metabolic rate
Striding out briskly for 30 minutes a day, seven days a week, is beneficial to all age groups reports researchers from Duke Medical Center in the American Journal of Cardiology. More importantly, it helps to avoid metabolic syndrome. That’s the proper name for a grab bag of symptoms including abdominal obesity, high triglycerides, hypertension and insulin resistance. In a series of studies more than 170 overweight men and women over 40 were assigned to one of three eight month exercise programs. Those who walked 18 to 20 kilometres a week for an average of 180 minutes ( that’s half an hour a day aver six days) showed a huge improvement in metabolic syndrome. It gets better. This focus group didn’t change their diets and showed better results than a control group of joggers who pounded the pavement for a similar number of kilometres.

Different Strokes
In a huge study involving 60,000 people between the ages of 18 and 100, scientists at the University of North Carolina found that aerobic fitness is vital to lowering the risk of stroke. Subjects walked — not jogged — on a treadmill until they peaked at their maximum aerobic capacity. Men in the top 25 per cent of cardio-respiratory fitness had a 40 per cent lower risk of stroke than those in the bottom 25 per cent. According to lead author, Dr Steven Hooker: “We found that a low to moderate amount of aerobic fitness would be enough to substantially lower stroke risk”.

Lower your risk of Alzheimer’s
The benefits of regular walking intensify with age so it’s a good habit to begin early. In a study published in Neurology magazine, a four year survey of more than 700 subjects over the age of 60 confirmed that —”walking is associated with a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia”.

Walking Do’s and Don’ts
The impact of running on your joints can be more than three times your body weight. But just because walking seems more gentle, you shouldn’t just get up and go, especially if you have been sitting down all day. To warm up your core temperature – run on the spot for five minutes before you set off or walk faster for the first five minutes, Men are less flexible than women so do a few stretching exercises before you start walking. After your core 30 minute walk—try to add a slower paced 10 minute walk or do the same stretching exercises as your warm up to wind down.