It’s free, it fits in with any lifestyle and it helps to keep you fit and healthy whatever your age – so why wouldn’t you want to get up and go for a good walk?
A brisk 30 minute walk, 5 times a week, can significantly improve your physical and mental health. Dr Ansell, a Concierge Medical GP and daily walker, encourages all her patients to take similar steps to improve their lifestyle. Here she explains the health benefits of regular walking and shares her top tips to help you take your first steps to fitness.
Physical health benefits
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that “insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for death” and a key risk for cardiovascular diseases, cancer and diabetes. UK physical activity guidelines recommend that most adults undertake at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week, but a report by the British Heart Foundation in 2017 found that about 20 million people in the UK were physically inactive.
“Doing something is always better than doing nothing,” emphasises Dr Ansell. Walking is beneficial at any age, but increasingly so as our bodies and lifestyle start to change when moving into our 40s. Faced with increasing work and/or family commitments and related stress, it’s all too easy to put off the regular exercise that’s required to keep your heart and lungs healthy, reduce your risk of diabetes and dementia, and keep blood pressure in check.
If you want to lose weight, exercising at medium intensity for a longer period of time rather than at a high intensity for a shorter period of time is the way to go! So if you dread the thought of pounding away on the treadmill, the good news is that walking can give you better results than running. And research has indicated that, when equal amounts of energy are expended, walking can also be more effective in reducing heart risk, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.
Walking can also help if you’re suffering from digestive problems or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and it’s a great way to combat osteoporosis (when combined with using light weights) by building bone strength to combat age-related decline. Plus being outdoors will help you top up your natural levels of vitamin D, which is vitally important to maintain good musculo-skeletal health.
Mental health benefits
Leading mental health charity MIND describes the many ways in which walking, as well as other forms of outside exercise and activity, can boost your mental health by being in a natural environment. These include reducing negative feelings of stress, anxiety, anger or depression.
Equally importantly, walking outdoors can help you make new connections and gain peer support, improving confidence and self-esteem. There are lots of walking groups and clubs around the UK, many of which are run by trained volunteers – and you could even end up volunteering yourself! Sharing interests with others helps to reduce the feelings of loneliness and isolation that commonly accompany anxiety and depression.
If you’re looking for local groups and recommended walks in your area, the Ramblers website is packed with helpful suggestions and membership options. And take a look at Walking for Health, England’s national network of health walk schemes, which offers lots of free supervised short walks that are ideal for new walkers.
Top tips for new walkers
Here are Dr Ansell’s top three tips to help you get up and go – and keep going:
• To gain the best results, you need to walk briskly – aim to walk at least 1.5 miles in 30 minutes. It’s more important to focus on your speed and level of intensity rather than the number of steps you’ve walked (which averages over 3,000 for this distance).
• Make sure you build walking time into your daily/weekly routine. If you’re struggling to walk for half an hour, start with a shorter challenge and build up. The NHS’s Active 10 programme encourages everyone to walk briskly for at least 10 minutes a day.
• If you want to track your progress, there’s a range of free apps you can download on your phone rather than more expensive alternative tracking devices. These include Google Fit and Pacer Pedometer and Step Tracker (for iPhones). And you can keep an exercise diary.
Remember – if you haven’t previously exercised or have existing health conditions, always seek medical advice from your own doctor before increasing your levels of physical activity.
Having a close relationship with your own doctor can really help to make a difference in keeping you focused on your health goals. If you’re a Concierge Medical member, your private GP will visit you in the comfort of your own home to help you work out your own activity plan (and you won’t have to rush to fit everything you need into a 10 minute appointment slot).
Our expanding practice covers the Cotswolds, Warwickshire, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Worcestershire and Wiltshire. Call us on 01451 600900 to find out more about our award-winning private medical services. And get ready to get up and go!