A recent survey has discovered that people in UK are simply not walking enough. With numerous health benefits, both physical and mental, it’s essential that people start walking on a regular basis. Two new initiatives go some way to addressing this problem - let’s just hope there’s more to come.
Walking gets the heart beating and blood circulating, has minimal impact on joints, is an aerobic activity using major muscle groups, it’s easy and it’s cheap, and you don’t need any special equipment or training. Regular walking can easily be incorporated into daily routine; perhaps by getting off the train a stop earlier on your way to work, or simply going out for an evening stroll. Providing you are walking at a moderate pace, meaning your heart is beating so your breathing will be harder than usual, but not so hard that you can’t speak in full sentences, you only need to walk a minimum of thirty minutes each day to enjoy the benefits. Walking provides all the usual benefits of exercise with minimal exertion, effort and pain.
And it’s not just your physical health that benefits. There is long standing evidence that shows peoples’ mental health is greatly benefited from regular walking, with walking being shown to alleviate symptoms of depression and elevate mood. The exact biological or chemical reasons behind this are still unclear, but it’s most likely to be the combination of the exercise itself combined with being outdoors. As well as the ‘feel good’ hormones and brain chemicals that are released during exercise, just getting outdoors is sometimes just what the doctor ordered – or at least should have. By incorporating a daily walk into your life, it gives you time and space to reflect and think, and step away from the normal day to day stresses and work. The scenery, people, or action around you may also act as a distraction from internal worries and negative feelings. And don’t forget the effect of natural sunlight and fresh air. 1 in 10 adults are likely to suffer from depression at some point in their lives, so if people truly understood how easy and beneficial regular walking is, it would surely result in a happier, as well as healthier, nation.
In the last one hundred years or so our lives have become more sedentary, and much more comfortable, meaning less physical labour, and more technology to make our lives easier. Even going to the gym a couple of times a week is not going to give your body the regular, moderate physical activity it needs. Intensity training may well be good for you in many ways, but unfortunately it’s not enough to counteract an otherwise sedentary way of living. According to the World Health Organisation, inactivity is the fourth biggest killer in the world, and with this generation of adults doing less activity and exercise than ever before, this number is only set to increase. Inactivity means that people will age quicker, the consequences of which are age-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
Sadly, despite the multitude of advantages of walking over many other types of exercise, a large proportion of Brits just aren’t walking enough. A recent YouGov survey polled 2000 adults across the UK and discovered that a quarter of adults walk for no more than one hour each week, and 43% walk less than two hours each week. The survey also found that 42% of people drive less than two miles simply to go to the gym and use a treadmill! In addition, sedentary lifestyles are likely to be passed down to future generations as the majority of children do not see their parents being active.
Clearly walking needs to be promoted in a big way to remind and educate the public of how important, beneficial, and easy walking is. Two recent initiatives are trying to do just that. The Ramblers, a walking charity which protects walking spaces and promotes walking for health and leisure, last week promoted a ‘Get Walking Week’ with experienced ramblers leading free five mile walks or less. Their aim is to get 100,000 more Britons going for regular walks. And in Berkshire a project called ‘Beat the Street’ will be launched mid June to encourage local residents to get walking. Caversham residents will be given Oyster style cards to touch in and touch out at certain sensor points which record the distance between different locations. Participants can win prizes donated by local businesses, with increased chances of winning for those who earn more walking points.
Hopefully these projects and initiatives will start to buck the trend of the limited walking us Brits are currently doing. And given the importance, the scale of the problem, and what’s at stake, let’s just hope there’s more to come. Walking isn’t about pushing your body to the limits, calorie counting, muscle building or taking up competitive sport, but simply enjoying prolonged life, reducing the risk of serious diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, and keeping a balanced and happy state of mind.
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