Fitness Focus – The Benefits of Walking

Fitness Focus – The Benefits of Walking

It’s ironic that I’m writing this article as I’m training for a 12 km Round the Bridges run that’s happening in Hamilton this weekend. It’s a yearly event, and I train to run it for the three weeks leading up to it – the rest of the year I walk.

If you’d asked me a few years ago what I thought about walking for exercise I would have scoffed and said ‘walking isn’t exercise’. Exercise had to be hard or fast, not gentle or slow. I’m now eating my words and think walking is a fantastic form of exercise!

Four years ago when Paul moved in, he brought his puppy with him – Lexi the springer spaniel. Paul was not a dog walker so I took up the role of taking her for walks and really enjoyed it. We now have two dogs (Lexi had puppies and we kept one), so most days I’ll be out walking both dogs.

What I Enjoy

  • Fresh air. I mostly walk the dogs in the mornings, and love the freshness of the morning air, the different smells of each season, and the sound of birds chirping merrily.
  • Morning sunshine. Sunlight on your face increases serotonin production in your brain, which results in feelings of calmness and happiness. It’s a great way to start the day.
  • Solitude. Spending an hour with just the dogs allows my mind to mull over anything that’s on my mind and come up with creative solutions for clients, business, life problems or projects.
  • Mindfulness. There’s always something to notice as the seasons change – different smells, colours, flowers. Taking a moment to be present and aware of everything going on around me.
  • Fitness. Walking an hour most days definitely improves your fitness. I consider the 10,000 steps per day a good foundation to build on for increased strength and fitness, and after my walk I feel like I’ve had a workout – especially after walking up Cambridge Road.

Sitting is the new Smoking

I’m a big fan of fitness trackers. When I first started using my Fitbit, I was horrified at how few steps I took on an average clinic day. Even though I go to the gym in the mornings, this isn’t enough if I’m sitting for the rest of the day. The phrase ‘sitting is the new smoking’ refers to the metabolic dysfunction that results from a sedentary work and lifestyle.  The term ‘active couch potato’ refers to someone who exercises in the morning and then spends the rest of the day sitting in the car, at work, and on the couch after work.  Worse are the ‘weekend warriors’ who do nothing all week and then go for bike rides, tramps or other strenuous activity during the weekend. Doing something is better than doing nothing. If you want to improve your fitness, maybe start by adding in some movement throughout the day e.g. walking to the printer, going for a walk around the block at lunchtime, parking your car a block or two away from work, walking the dog (or you can borrow mine) after work. Many fitness trackers and smart watches remind their users to move every hour – you could walk up and down a flight of stairs for 2 minutes. Standing is better than sitting – you may consider getting a standing desk so you can alternate between sitting and standing. If you have a fitness tracker that’s been sitting idle, it may be time to charge it up and start using it again. If you don’t have a fitness tracker you could use your smartphone – most have apps that count steps as you carry them around. Start tracking how much movement you’re getting on an average day, and add in incidental activity to increase your daily step count.

Other Benefits of Walking

  • It doesn’t cost anything except for the price of a pair of shoes, and some comfortable walking clothes.
  • Increases your energy, benefits your metabolism, and reduces your risk of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer
  • Burns fat rather than carbohydrates, so it won’t increase your appetite
  • Improves your mood and sense of wellbeing almost immediately
  • It can be a social time if you want to have a walking buddy
  • Can be done anywhere, anytime
  • You’re unlikely to injure yourself

In Conclusion

Walking and general activity of 10,000 steps per day form the foundation on which to build strength and fitness. If you’re not doing much activity at the moment, start with walking. Ideally aim for 10,000 steps per day, but if this is too much then set goal that’s realistic and achievable. Use a fitness tracker or smart watch to hold yourself accountable, or have an accountability partner – someone who will give you a gentle rev up if you need it.

Focus also on the benefits for your mood and mental wellbeing – starting the day with a walk will improve your mood almost immediately.

The most difficult thing about walking is making the decision to do it!

If you have any questions or comments please post them below.  Thank you for reading and enjoy your day.

Helen is a registered medical herbalist and naturopath with 15 years clinical and teaching experience. She aims to help her clients to create vibrant health through improved nutrition and better lifestyle practices, and uses herbal medicines to support healing processes. Her philosophy on health is to keep it simple and find easy ways to fit 'being healthy' into your life.

Helen is passionate about health and wellbeing, and understands metabolism and weight management as a holistic practice - working with physical, mental and emotional aspects of health, weight and body image.

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