A step in the right direction

Overwhelmed by the choice of fitness trends? Don’t be. The evidence says we can get healthier, fitter and lose weight just by walking, says Laura Day.

Picture this: if you were offered a daily pill that could reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease and stroke, give you a healthy dose of vitamin D, help you lose weight, tone up AND increase your stamina, would you take it? We thought so! But before you go googling where to buy this new wonder drug, here’s the best bit: the benefits are all yours with a brisk daily walk.

Hard to believe? Well, listen to this: time and again the evidence supports claims that walking reduces the risk of chronic diseases. In 2008 University College London researchers published a review of the most robust walking studies carried out between 1970 and 2007. They concluded walking cut the risk of cardiovascular disease by 31%, and the risk of dying over the 12-year study period was reduced by 32% for both men and women. Those who walked harder for longer had the greatest protection. Other studies have provided similar results.

A daily 20-minute brisk walk lowers your risk of early death by up to 30%

Walking for up to 30 minutes as part of a daily commute was found to decrease the risk of stroke in men and women by between 8 and 11%, while brisk walking was found to have a similar lowering effect on high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol as running. And even if you’re physically inactive now, just 20 minutes of brisk walking daily is enough to lower your risk of an early death by up to 30%.

The NHS recommends we do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, and this suddenly sounds a whole lot easier to achieve when you factor in walking – although you’ll need to walk as if you’re in a rush. Better still, some studies suggest walking doesn’t increase your appetite in the way some high intensity workouts can (your weight loss may backfire if you work out too intensely and end up eating all or more of your burned calories).

Get started today

Your new plan can take effect from the minute you read this. ‘Walking is a great way for non exercisers to begin a fitness programme as it’s simple, free and you already know how to do it,’ says personal trainer Jessica Smith (jessicasmithtv.com). ‘It’s a great way for new exercisers to build their fitness base and endurance level and feel successful about a regular workout plan. Plus it’s easy on the joints, which makes it a great alternative to jogging for those with knee or hip issues.’

To make walking part of your routine, Jessica recommends setting a weekly goal, such as walking on a certain number of days a week (between two and  five, depending on your fitness level), and marking it on your calendar. ‘Make it an important appointment you won’t miss,’ she says.

This feature was originally published in Healthy Food Guide Magazine and syndicated in the Daily Express
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