National Walking Month: What are the benefits of walking?

May is National Walking Month. The UK charity for everyday walking, Living Streets, is encouraging everyone to #Try20 – and walk for at least 20 minutes every day in May. 

The evenings are getting lighter, the weather is getting warmer and it’s the perfect time to get outside and get walking.  More walking means fewer car journeys, which helps the environment by reducing greenhouse emissions, reducing traffic congestion, and improving air quality.

Walking helps to increase our physical activity and improve our wellbeing. It’s a free, gentle, low-impact activity that requires no special training or equipment. Almost everyone can do it, anywhere, any time.

Keep reading to find out the benefits of walking and discover easy ways to add a walking to your daily routine…

Walk for the planet

The Climate Emergency is the biggest issue facing our world today. Leeds City Council declared a Climate Emergency in 2019 and pledged to make Leeds carbon neutral by 2030. To help meet the 2030 target, we all need to adopt more sustainable travel choices such as walking. The Leeds Transport Strategy sets out the vision for Leeds to be city where you don’t need a car, where everyone has an affordable zero carbon choice in how they travel. Walking is a big part of this vision, with an ambition to increase walking in Leeds by 33% by 2030.

Walk for health

Walking is the ideal exercise to fit in to your day. It is easy to start slowly and build up gradually. There is evidence that those who are currently inactive could achieve health benefits from just 10 minutes of brisk walking. These benefits can include increased physical fitness, healthier weight and a 15% reduction in risk of early death. People with existing health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes or lower back pain can benefit from just 10 minutes of daily brisk walking (Public Health England, 2017).

To keep healthy, Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity on a weekly basis. Exercise doesn’t have to mean pumping iron in a gym for hours, it can come in the form of a brisk walk. The main aim is to make yourself breathe a little heavier than normal, but not be out of breath. Start with small bursts such as a 20-minute walk, then build up a frequency and intensity that fits with your lifestyle.

Vitamin D is important for bone health and our immune system, so it is important to keep your levels topped up. From early April to the end of September, most people can get enough Vitamin D from sunlight on their skin. One way to increase your levels of Vitamin D is to go for a short walk outside every day during daylight hours and expose your arms and face to the sun.

Walking workout

Walking activates lots of muscles including calves, glutes, hamstrings, quads, and abdominals. Good walking posture can make all the difference, so make sure you stand up straight but relaxed. Look ahead, swing your arms in time with your stride and breathe deeply in time with your steps if you can. A brisk walk is about three miles an hour, which is faster than a stroll. You can tell you’re walking briskly if you can still talk but cannot sing the words to a song. It depends on your weight, but if you walk briskly at about four miles per hour for 30 minutes, you could use up around 150 calories. To motivate you even more, download a step counter app on your phone or use an online calorie counter to see how many calories you burn on your walk.

Walk for wellbeing

Walking can have a positive impact on your mental well-being. There are times when we all feel mentally fatigued, tense, or lethargic. Walking can boost your circulation and increases the oxygen supply around your body which will help to make you feel more energetic, awake, and alert. A brisk 20-minute walk can be a great tool to help to improve self-esteem and mood, help manage stress and anxiety and improve sleep (Mind, 2019). This is because exercise such as walking, causes chemicals called endorphins to be released, which are known to positively alter your mood. Regular physical activity such as a daily walk can also reduce your risk of becoming depressed by 30% (Public Health England, 2019). Being active on a regular basis can also lead to people having more energy, feeling more relaxed and having a better concentration and memory (British Heart Foundation, 2018).

Workplace walking

There are lots of ways you can incorporate workplace walking. Swap driving for walking for all or part of your journey on your daily commute. Get off the bus a few stops early and walk the rest of the way, try walking meetings, use the stairs or check out lunch time walking routes and go for a stroll in your lunch break. Working from home often means much less daily physical activity, so go for a walk before or after work to replicate your commute or stride the kids to and from school. Businesses can get help and ideas to increase walking and become walk friendly organisations at City Connect. Find out how easy it is to fit walking into your daily commute, click hereto watch our case study video.

Walk together

Group walks helps people to make friends and form social connections, get closer to nature, and take part in exercise. They can help tackle loneliness as they provide a chance to ‘get out of the house’ and connect with the local community. There are lots of walking groups in Leeds, check out Leeds Let’s Get ActiveLeeds RamblersTCV, Take a Hike, Your Back Yard or Mental Health Mates and sign up.

Walk to explore

Connecting with green spaces and getting closer to nature is great for our wellbeing in all kinds of ways – you may have heard of the Japanese concept of ‘forest bathing’, based on scientific evidence about the benefits of spending time near trees. Walking is a great way to explore the beautiful parks and green spaces of Leeds. Visit Leeds has lots of routes to get you started and you can find tips for some of the best walks in Leeds here. If you’re curious about history and geography, you’ll find some fascinating guided walks at  Leeds Inspired.  Families can use the new Love Exploring app to discover parks and other great places in Leeds and dog walkers can gets some four-legged walking tips here.

It’s so easy to fit more walking in to your daily routine. Start your day with a wake-up walk, stride to school, walk to work or, if it’s too far to walk all the way, park and stride or get off the bus a few stops early and walk the rest of your journey. Squeeze in a lunch time walk or hold walking meetings.  Join a local walking group, listen to a podcast to take your mind off the effort or listen to music to get you into a rhythm and help you walk faster. Swap short car journeys for walking, stroll to the shop, promenade to your place of worship or saunter to your sport and leisure activities. Add that extra mile to your gym visit by walking there and back. Go for an evening amble around your neighbourhood, park, or local green space. Wherever and whenever you walk, #Try20 this May and get walking more often.

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