Walking for Health


Getting fit and healthy doesn't always mean long hours spent in the gym. Hillwalking, mountain walking, Nordic walking, or simply a daily, brisk 30-minute walk in the local park are all great ways of keeping fit, by developing your cardiovascular system and burning off fat and calories.

Walking is one of the most natural activities known to humankind – it’s simple, accessible and flexible – and, research shows, it’s beneficial to both mind and body. Walking is a great form of exercise that is free and open to all. And it is no secret that walking is an excellent prescription for weight loss too.

Some of the health benefits of walking in the countryside:

Walking is great for your heart…
Accumulating 30 minutes of walking per day is enough to produce significant heart health benefits’, says The Physician and Sportsmedicine journal. In a large-scale Nurses’ Health Study, women who walked briskly (in the study, brisk was defined as a fairly unchallenging, three to four mph pace) for at least three hours per week, had the same amount of protection against heart disease as women who exercise vigorously for an hour and a half a week – both groups were 30-40% less likely to develop heart disease than their sedentary counterparts.

Lower your cholesterol… 
Walking can also decrease cholesterol levels, a common cause of heart disease.  More specifically, it increases high-density lipoprotein (HDL), considered to be the ‘good’ cholesterol, which helps move bad cholesterol from the artery walls.

Slowing the aging process…
Aging doesn’t decrease the body’s ability to be physically active and healthy, but rather leading an inactive and unhealthy lifestyle accelerates the aging process. Research shows that what we once accepted as a natural part of growing older - a decline in physical activity and strength - does not have to accompany aging. In 2001 an article in the American Journal of Public Health identified the relationship between reduced mortality risk and moderate recreational activity. A study of two groups of 15 middle-aged men was conducted between 1969 and 1992, during which time one group exercised regularly, while the other group exercised for the first five years and then stopped. When researchers tested these men at the end of the 23 years, they found that the non-exercisers had lost 41 percent of their aerobic power, while the exercisers had only lost 13 percent. 

Can prevent osteoporosis…
For women, regular walking can help prevent osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a bone disease which affects mostly older women who lack sufficient amounts of calcium. This deficiency reduces bone density, increases the bone’s porosity and brittleness, leading to a susceptibility to broken bones. Hiking and walking helps reverse the negative effects of osteoporosis by increasing the bone density and slowing the rate of calcium loss, thus strengthening the bones and decreasing their susceptibility to break. And believe it or not, trails are gentler on the joints than pavements.

Walking may reduce the risk of some cancers...
There is some evidence that walking can lower the risk of cancer. A study published in the Epidemiology journal found that those who took up exercise after the menopause had a 30% lower risk of developing breast cancer, while those who had been active throughout their lives had a 42% lower risk than sedentary women. Meanwhile, a large study carried out in Scandinavia found that recreational activity was enough to bring a 40% reduction in the risk of colon cancer.

Can improve arthritis…
Many people’s response to arthritis pain is to decrease or even stop the use of their joints. Unfortunately, lack of movement can actually deepen the problem. Once properly diagnosed and treated most people with arthritis can benefit from a regular exercise program. Recent research suggests that walking may be the best exercise. Walking helps strengthen muscles, especially in the legs. People with arthritis in their knees or ankles benefit from stronger leg muscles, because they relieve some of the pain that may occur when bones rub against each other. In addition, the natural tranquillising effect of walking helps decrease arthritic pain.

Can relieve back pain…
How often do you go home after a hard day at work and realize that your lower back feels stiff? If you’re like most people, you probably notice this pain regularly. Almost everybody suffers from back pain at one time or another, whether caused from an injury or simply from sitting at a computer for too many hours. Walking prevents and cures the most common kinds of muscular backache, and even some kinds in which a disk problem has been identified.  The disappearance of, or enormous decrease in back pain has been identified as the most common, clearly perceived health benefit reported by walkers. However, if you are plagued by back problems and are considering walking away the pain, be sure to consult your doctor first to make sure that your particular back problem won’t be aggravated by walking.

Walking gives you immunity... 
There’s a fine balance between exercise and the immune system. Doing none at all seems to increase your risk of bacterial and viral infections while doing too much can compromise immunity, too. But moderate exercise, like walking, is the perfect balance. One study divided 50 people into two groups – one who walked briskly for 45 minutes a day, five days a week, and the other that did not exercise. The walkers experienced half as many colds as the control group. The walkers also showed an increase in natural killer cells; immune system cells that attack bacteria and viruses.

Excellent for chilling out… 
Walking has benefits beyond the merely physical, and many people walk as much for mental and spiritual well-being as for fitness. Life can be hectic, and stress can build up without being noticed. Walking causes the release of calming brain chemicals called endorphins, which are natural tranquillisers. Also, walking releases adrenaline, produced by the body to cope with real or perceived danger. If the adrenaline isn’t released from the body, it accumulates, causing muscle tension and feelings of anxiety. A study tested 36 walkers for anxiety, tension and blood pressure levels before, during, and after 40 minutes of walking. Results showed immediate decreases in tension and anxiety, as well as blood pressure, after walking, regardless of how fast or slow the participants walked.

Walking makes you feel good! 
The sense of freedom you get when you are out hill- or mountain walking and enjoying stunning views is immense, and there is an undeniable feeling of well-being and truly feeling alive. It is up to you how easy or challenging the route and terrain will be, and consequently how tired you will become. The worst part of hill walking (like many active pursuits) is getting started!