Keep on walking during lockdown: why walking is so important for your health

Woman walking her dog

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.

Heart 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.

CLose up of two hands making a heart shape with the sun in the background

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.

Wmoan outside looking joyful

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.

Joint Health

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!

A woman with a rucksack enjoying a walk outdoors in a forest

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.

Immunity

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!

Close up of a doctor holding a blackboard with Immune System written on it in chalk

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.

Close up of woman with arms outstretched, smiling in a forest

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.

Stay well.

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Celebrate the summer berry season

The Great British institution of Wimbledon kicks off this week, and whilst in celebratory mood our thoughts tend to turn to strawberries.  Home-grown British strawberries are at their absolute best right now in terms of flavour and the great news is that they also deliver some amazing health benefits. 

Clinical Nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares the health benefits of these heart-shaped fruit.  And if strawberries don’t ‘float your boat’ there are plenty of other berries to choose from!

SMALLER--4 Suzie Blog pic

STRAWBERRY NUTRITION

It may surprise you to know that strawberries are not actually a fruit at all!  This is because their seeds are on the outside, not the inside. They are actually part of the rose or rosaceae family!

Strawberries are a very rich source of vitamin C.  In fact, they feature at about number five in the list of foods highest in vitamin C.  They also contain folate, one of the family of B vitamins that delivers great energy.

Strawberries contain manganese, which is great for the joints.  This benefit is further enhanced by the presence of compounds called ellagitannins which help manage inflammation in the body (which ultimately can cause pain). So if you’ve been hard at work in the garden and your back is complaining, you know what to reach for!

Anthocyanins provide the amazing red colour of strawberries, and these plant compounds also deliver some powerful immune-boosting antioxidants.  Strawberries are also high in fibre to help keep the bowels running smoothly and support a healthy heart.

THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF STRAWBERRIES

As well as their enviable nutritional profile, strawberries are beneficial in a number of health conditions.

With Type 2 diabetes becoming ever more prevalent, one of the best ways to try to avoid its onset, is by eating foods that are known to be low glycaemic (or low GI).  This means that whilst they contain sugar, mainly in the form of fructose, this type of sugar is released more slowly into the body. Therefore, this helps to balance blood sugar levels, an imbalance of which can lead to Type 2 diabetes. Strawberries actually have a much lower glycaemic index than other fruits such as bananas, pineapples, apricots and cantaloupe melon.

As previously highlighted, strawberries are rich in antioxidants which help to reduce inflammation in the body, and this too can have positive benefits on brain health.  Even though very limited research has been carried out, it seems that eating strawberries can help re-generate the nerves involved in the area of the brain that processes new information. So summertime, when strawberries are at their best, might be a great time to learn something new; maybe a foreign language so you’ll be well prepared when next year’s holiday comes around!

So, what if strawberries aren’t top of your berry list? No problem – there are plenty of other berries to choose from!

BLUEBERRIES

Ranked second only to strawberries in terms of their popularity, blueberries are often referred to as a superfood.  As with strawberries (and other berry fruits), it’s all about the colour. The deep pigment colour is attributed to anthocyanins, which are very powerful compounds that provide antioxidants.

Part of the reason that blueberries are often termed superfoods, is because they have a wider array of other health-boosting plant compounds than almost any other fruit. They have been found to be great for maintaining sharp brain function, keeping blood sugar levels in balance and supporting the eyes.

CHERRIES

Whilst cherries may be seen as more difficult to eat because of the stone, they more than make up for this inconvenience with their nutritional benefits.

Cherries come in the form of sweet or tart and they actually provide different health benefits.

Whilst they’re a rich source of vitamin C just like the other berry fruits, all cherries have been found to help combat the painful condition, gout, which causes very painful and inflamed joints.  Gout is caused by too much uric acid in the blood and cherries actually help to reduce this, thereby aiding symptoms.

On the other hand, tart cherries are one of the only natural sources of melatonin, the body’s sleep hormone.  They are fairly sharp to eat whole, therefore are best consumed in tart cherry juice which can be sipped morning and evening for best effect.

BLACKBERRIES

If strawberries are closely associated with Wimbledon, then blackberry-picking just shouts ‘summer’! Wild blackberries are abundant on the hedgerows and are an amazing accompaniment to many a dessert, particularly a fresh, fruit salad.

Whilst they contain an amazing array of powerful plant compounds, blackberries also provide an impressive amount of vitamins including vitamins A, E, K and the B vitamins. Blackberries are also high in two carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been found to be highly beneficial to eye sight.

So summer berry season is here!  Enjoy them all for extra health and nutrition benefits and feel energised all summer long!

FOR MORE GREAT DIET AND LIFESTYLE ADVICE:

Sign up to receive our blog and get a weekly dose of the latest nutrition and health advice direct to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter @feelaliveuk for nutrition, lifestyle and well-being tips.

Visit us at www.feelaliveuk.com for the latest offers and exclusive Alive! content.

Follow and Chat with Suzie on Twitter @nutritionsuzie

For everything you need to know about vitamins, minerals and herbs visit Herbfacts