National Walking Month: Why walking is good for life

By Ambassador Max Erasmus

For me, there’s something about going for a walk that brings clarity, energy and a great feeling of accomplishment. And the greatest part? It’s free, there are no age restrictions and no minimum steps you must do to qualify.

It was whilst walking the 2,189 miles of the Appalachian Trail that I grew to love this unassuming activity. It was a little more extreme than your average dog-walk but since then I have a renewed passion and respect for the power of walking, whether you want to walk through 14 states of America or just around your local park – it’s all good!

This humble activity seems to get overshadowed by almost every other but it’s one that could be the key to a longer, healthier life. So, in celebration of the upcoming National Walking Month, I’m talking walking, why it’s great for your health and how we can all try to walk a little bit more.

Does walking count?

The NHS recommend that ‘to maintain or improve your health, adults need to do aerobic and strength exercises every week. As a minimum, adults aged 19-64 should try to be active daily weekly exercise of 150 minutes.’

Walking certainly counts towards these 150 minutes because when we take a brisk walk a lot more goes on than you might think, and you certainly don’t need to walk for hours to reap the benefits.

Physical health

Walking is a full body workout and can help to counteract the sedentary lifestyle many of us have come to call the norm. It provides a great boost for the metabolism, is great for weight loss and keeps our heart and body healthy because it helps our circulatory system; increasing the circulation of fresh oxygen and nutrients around the body as well as assisting the lymphatic system to rid the body of excess toxins and lymphatic fluid.

Plus, getting out in the sunshine tops up our Vitamin D levels, which we need for a healthy immune system as well as to support a healthy circadian rhythm, which can be vital for those who spend most of their day under artificial light.

Better sleep

Did you know that the more daylight you get during the day the more awake you will feel during the day and the better you will sleep? This is because our circadian rhythm is our internal clock and counts on optimum amounts of daylight during the day and darkness at night to stay healthy and on time, so, the healthier it is, the better you will sleep.

Research by Oregon State University found that just 3o minutes of brisk walking over a five-day period helped people to sleep better but also to feel more alert during the day.

A caffeine-free boost

As well assisting the circadian rhythm and the quality of sleep, a walk can also provide the wake-up you need if you’re suffering from an afternoon slump. Walking has been found to benefit the brain as well as the body, boosting memory, cognitive function, reading and learning abilities.

So, instead of reaching for another coffee, which can inhibit good sleep later, pop out for a walk. Exercise boosts your core temperature and circulation and increases your levels of alertness. So, you will feel more awake, have increased energy and you certainly won’t miss that afternoon lull that usually urges you to dive into the biscuit tin.

Mental health

Walking can be hugely beneficial for mental health; not only can it help to ease stress by clearing cortisol, the “stress hormone”, out of your system but it also offers an escape from a stressful stimulus and gives you a chance to find some calm.

Exercise can also enhance mood and welcomes convergent and divergent thinking for more effective problem solving, which is also fantastic for creativity. Therefore, for some, walking can be a form of meditation; a chance to step out of the stress or problem and regain control of your thoughts and mood.

Reconnect with people

Whilst walking can be vital for clearing your head, it can also be a wonderful way to reconnect people. It’s a great opportunity to get away from work, endless to do lists and all the distractions of home. Just walk and discuss life, work (the good and the stressful parts), make plans, reminisce or put the world to rights, whatever the topic, it can really help you to reconnect with that person, see where they’re at and reset busy minds.