You recently told us walking is overwhelmingly your favourite form of exercise. Well, step right up as exercise physiologist Kathleen Alleaume shows just how terrific your choice is.
Cut stroke risk
Walking every day can halve your chance of a stroke – but only if you step up the pace. Danish scientists studying the health of more than 10,000 people found those who went on a fast walk daily cut their risk of stroke by 50 per cent, while those who strolled for an hour experienced no such benefit. They reported it’s the intensity that matters, more than how long you walk. So to keep your heart healthy, try turning that stroll to work, or to the corner shop, into a power walk to get the benefits.
Step it up
Walking up stairs burns up to 400 per cent more energy than leisurely walking on the flat at 3.2 kilometers per hour and 23 per cent more than jogging, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. That means, for example, an overweight person could lose up to 5.4 kilos by climbing just two flights of stairs a day for a year (if the climber sticks to a kilojoule-controlled diet).
Sit less, live longer
We know that 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week is recommended for good health, but now research shows even regular exercise may not be enough to counteract the health hazards of sitting down at a desk all day long. In a recent study including more than 222,000 adults aged 45 and over, men and women who sat for 11 hours or more a day had a 40 per cent greater risk of premature death, than those who sat for less than four hours.
On top of your 30 minutes of walking a day, aim to move as much as possible throughout the day and sit for no more than 30 minutes at a time. Simple tweaks like standing up whenever you use the phone or doing household chores during commercial breaks are great ways to cut your sitting time.
Swap that relaxing wallow in the pool for a water walk and you can blaze your way through up to 2300kJ in an hour. Like any water-based aerobic exercise, the water’s buoyancy supports your body’s weight, which reduces stress on the joints and minimises pain. Bonus: Water provides 12 times the resistance of air, so as you walk, you’re strengthening your muscles.
The deeper the water, the more strenuous your workout.
Make it count
In a walking rut? Wearing a pedometer may be one of the least expensive and most effective ways to climb out of it. Your goal should be 10,000 steps each day. Back in the 1960s, Japanese researchers determined the average person took 3,500 to 5,000 steps per day, and that if they were to increase their steps to 10,000 steps per day the result would be healthier people.
10,000 steps is roughly equivalent to seven or eight kilometres of walking. And it’s surprisingly simple: every step counts, from making a cup of tea, to walking to a colleague’s desk rather than sending them an email.
Forget Suduko because brain games aren’t the only way to keep your mind sharp. Now a growing number of studies show a daily walk can lead to positive physical changes in the brain, as well as helping to keep your memory sharp. Researchers have found older adults who walked a minimum of three times a week had enlargements in the hippocampus (an area of the brain critical for memory), slowing down age-related memory loss.
The benefits of walking extend beyond the physical. Research reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found walking 30 minutes a day boosted the moods of patients with depression faster than antidepressants. Why? Walking releases endorphins ('happy' hormones), which means you get a natural high after a walk.
Did you know?
On average, every minute of walking can extend your life by 1.5 to 2 minutes.
Walking an extra 20 minutes each day will lead to a loss of around 3 kilos of body fat per year.
The average human walking speed is about 5 kilometres per hour compared to the Olympic record for race walking, which is 15 kilometres per hour.
Walking strengthens your bones and reduces bone density loss as you age.