Walking for health

If you don’t enjoy exercise classes or the gym but are worried about your fitness levels or have been advised by a doctor to exercise, there’s good news: you’re actually working out every time you take a walk.

“Walking is the nearest activity to the perfect exercise. ”

Professors Jerry Morris and Adrienne Hardman “Walking Works Report.'

If you don’t enjoy exercise classes or the gym but are worried about your fitness levels or have been advised by a doctor to exercise, there’s good news: you’re actually working out every time you take a walk. Because walking comes naturally, many of us don’t think of it as an aerobic activity but walking works.  It lifts the mood, keeps you healthy and can even save your life. A simple, brisk, daily walk can really improve your health.  

Benefits of walking include:

  • Strengthening the muscles
  • Helps lose weight/maintain a healthy weight
  • Lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, colon cancer and diabetes
  • Strengthens the bones and prevents osteoporosis and osteoarthritis
  • Strengthens the abdominals and back muscles helping reduce lower back pain
  • Helps reduce blood pressure
  • Improves balance and co-ordination
  • Improves energy levels
  • Lifts the mood and reduces stress and anxiety levels

Research reveals that a 15-minute walk taken after dinner can lower blood sugar levels almost immediately and walking can be as good as running when it comes to keeping the heart-healthy. Research also indicates that the more daily steps taken by men over the age of 55, the better the quality of their lives

Over 13 years ago, Dr William Bird, a GP running a diabetic clinic, set up ‘Walking For Health’ to help his patients take part in a local, low cost, fun and sociable activity.  

Today the Ramblers and Macmillan Cancer Support run ‘Walking For Health’ and the walks are organised by a wide variety of groups and organisations from local councils to the NHS Trust and volunteer groups. There are more than 600 local schemes across England, offering short, free walks led by friendly, trained walk leaders – all volunteers. In total there are 3,400 walks each week are led by 10,000 volunteers and enjoyed by 700,000 walkers.

It isn’t surprising that walking is increasing in popularity. For most people, it’s easy, it’s free, you don’t have to wear special clothes, you can walk alone or with friends, you can wear ‘ordinary’ clothes and increase your activity levels at your own pace.

What do I need to go walking?

  • Good walking shoes or boots
  • A light backpack or ‘daysack’
  • A reusable water bottle
Walking boots
Rucksack resting a waterfall
A blonde woman in sunglasses drinking water

Preparing to walk

Find a good place to walk. If you’re starting out, the best places are relatively flat with straight paths and smooth surfaces. Parks are often a good idea. Also, make sure you’re wearing suitable footwear. Walking puts pressure on your feet and you’ll need something well-fitting and supportive. 

We’ve put together a list of the best walking boots for men and women:

Make an exercise playlist

If you listen to music that is upbeat, it can be motivating and help you maintain a good pace. Some people like to listen to an audiobook or podcast whilst walking – just make sure you keep a lookout for traffic.

Set achievable goals

Keep a record of your activity – write down your goals and monitor your success – but don’t be too hard on yourself. You could plan to walk 30 minutes a day, three times a week and then build up your pace and your distance over time. Remember that walking isn’t a quick-fix for getting fit or losing weight – it’s a ‘slow but steady’ exercise regime.

Make sure you drink plenty of water

People over 60 dehydrate much more quickly than their younger counterparts and the first symptoms of dehydration are a dry mouth, dizziness, fatigue, confusion or loss of memory and weakness. It’s important to drink plenty of water throughout the day but if you’re going walking, make sure you have taken in about 8 to 16 fluid ounces of water an hour before you’re about to walk – that’s about two glasses of water – and between ¼ and ½ litre. It’s wise to carry a reusable water bottle with you – and we’ve recommended a couple of the best ones. If you’re taking a water bottle, you may want to choose a ‘daysack’ – that’s a light backpack for walking. 

Consideration for the environment is really important so we’re seeing fewer people with plastic water bottles and the rise of the chic reusable water bottles. The steel ones are particularly good and can keep drinks either hot or cold for up to 12 or 24 hours.

Join a walking group

If you’re a seasoned walker, you may enjoy walking in the company of others.  Many branches of the U3A provide walking groups and there’s the Ramblers Association. The Ramblers’ yearly subscription is around £35 and this means that you can walk with any group in the country and receive the quarterly ‘Walk’ magazine and discount on equipment from selected shops if you show your membership card.  

The Ramblers also help the county councils maintain the countryside, clearing footpaths, replacing damaged stiles with kissing gates and even building simple bridges.  

Local Ramblers groups across the South East walk through some of the country’s most glorious countryside and many Beechcroft retirement communities have a local group ‘on the doorstep.’


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