May is National Walking Month which actually falls at a really appropriate time. Whilst many of us are on lockdown, and currently restricted on where and how far we can walk, now is the perfect opportunity to make those walks really count and enjoy their wonderful health benefits.
Whether you’re doing a circuit of your neighbourhood or have fields, trails or woods on your doorstep, getting out and about every day is an essential part of staying well.
Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares why walking is so important for both your physical and mental health.
Walking is great for the heart both from a physical and emotional perspective. Clearly time outside is limited at the moment, so make the most of every step. Why not challenge yourself each week and try to get a little further every time? This means you’ll be walking faster, which in turn raises the heart rate.
The heart is a muscle that needs to be worked like any other. Therefore, aim to walk at pace in order to raise your heart rate and fully benefit. This will help circulation, improve lung capacity, tone the legs and support weight management. You can burn up to 300 calories in half an hour if you up the pace.
Just being outside in the fresh air is also great for the soul. If you’re feeling cooped up indoors, just getting out for an hour can be amazingly restorative. The adage about ‘clearing your head’ really can happen when you’re out for a walk. Plus, it’s still possible, depending on where you live, to meet up and walk at a social distance from a friend or relative, if you’re feeling isolated.
Now the gyms are closed, there are many more people out jogging right now, which is a great form of exercise. However, it can be tough on the joints, especially the knees. One of the many wonderful things about walking is that you can get fit without joint trauma; it’s much more comfortable for the body generally, and it may even ease joint plain. Plus, if you tackle some hills, you’ll be getting a great workout for your butt!
Our legs need to be worked for them to retain and build muscle. Therefore, if this is the only form of exercise you’re able to do right now, try to make it count and do a meaningful march every time you head out for a walk.
Blood sugar levels
Blood sugar needs to be in balance so that you’re also balanced emotionally and physically. When levels fall, that’s when you get the tell-tale loss of concentration and irritability. Importantly, it’s key to weight control because excess sugar in the blood stream is stored as fat.
Walking after a meal has been shown to keep blood sugar levels in good balance (even 15 minutes around the block is effective) and any excess calories you’ve eaten will be less likely to be stored as fat.
Exercise in general boosts immunity by uprating the production of white blood cells, which are key to immune function. For athletes and serious exercisers, too much exercise can actually deplete immunity, so more protection of the immune system is needed through nutrition and supplementation. However, for recreational exercisers, it’s an amazing way to put yourself in the best position to fight off any colds and other viruses, so get out there!
If it’s a sunny day you will also be getting some of the immune-boosting vitamin D. Vitamin D is made on the skin in the presence of sunlight – another great reason to spend more time outdoors.
Energy and positivity
Because walking increases blood flow and, therefore, oxygen around the body, you’ll naturally feel more energised after a walk. And this oxygen will also reach your brain, allowing your head to feel clearer, and often more creative.
Walking is a great time for thinking, planning, problem-solving and being aware of the environment around you. It’s amazing how much more positive you can feel even after just a short walk. Use the time for just being ‘you’ if you can. Be mindful and enjoy your surroundings – if you’re lucky enough to have a lovely view or open space on your doorstep, then that’s an added bonus.
So, embrace National Walking Month and you’ll definitely be rewarded with some wonderful health benefits.
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