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The benefits of a daily walk



The benefits of a daily walk

A paper published in the journal Current Opinion in Cardiology found that even short walks offer heart-health benefits. “Patients may accrue short-terms gains such as improved fitness, body composition, blood pressure and lipid profiles,” said the authors. “Longer term benefits include reduced risk of coronary heart disease, coronary events and mortality.” Walking can even have an effect on cholesterol

Walking can also help people with dementia. A 2022 review of numerous trials that encouraged dementia sufferers to take regular light exercise – including walking – concluded it improved cognitive function across the board. All the participants were 60 or older and exercised at least once a week for eight weeks or more.

There is also a link to fighting cancer. A 2019 study from the American Cancer Society found that two-and-a-half to five hours of moderate exercise such as “brisk walking” every week lowered the risk of seven different cancers: colon, breast, kidney, liver, endometrial, myeloma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Many people report feeling better and brighter after going out for a walk, and this is backed up by research. Mind, the UK mental health charity, published a study that compared the results of exercise in the great outdoors with a walk inside an indoor shopping centre. 71 per cent of respondents reported decreased levels of depression and said they felt less tense after taking a walk in a green environment. 90 per cent felt increased self-esteem. 

Ramblers agrees with the importance of being outside specifically. “Getting out in the fresh air can be invaluable for your mental wellbeing,” George Salmon says. “Not only does it give you a chance to relax and recharge, it’s a great way to reconnect with nature.”

There’s also evidence that our mental health is affected by something called negative air ions. These are negatively charged gas ions generated by sunlight, cosmic rays and plants, which are particularly concentrated in forests, near waterfalls and on beaches. A US review of multiple studies highlighted that people who had been exposed to these negative ions experienced “reduced depression severity, lower psychological stress, less anxiety and enhanced well-being”.

Joanna Hall, a sports scientist and founder of walking programme WalkActive, says this is another reason we should walk outside as often as we can, “especially in dense forest or by waterfalls”. 

How far should you walk every day?

Hall warns us not to obsess over distance. “But if you’re looking for quantity, I feel 7,500 steps as a daily target is a good benchmark,” she adds.

Ramblers says you shouldn’t worry about how many you do per day, as long as you do something. “The good news is that any number of steps has a really positive impact on your health,” stresses Salmon.

Is it better to walk longer or faster?

Neither, according to Hall. What’s far more important is to “walk better”. “There are skills involved in walking just like there are in golf and tennis,” she adds. 

In her coaching programme, she encourages walkers to use the leg that trails behind to propel them forwards, rather than using their leading leg to pull them along. Ideally, as we stride, our legs should make the shape of an inverted letter V.

“That way you will improve your posture, increase your walking speed and reduce joint strain at the hips, knees and ankles,” she adds.

Rather than speed of walking, she prefers to talk in terms of foot cadence, suggesting that, for most people, 120 steps a minute is a good target. Check your watch while you’re walking. 

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