We all know that it feels good to get outdoors and go for a walk - and during varying levels of lockdown, it can be one of the few reasons to leave the house! But did you know that the benefits of going for a regular walk will be remembered by your body for years to come?
1. Walking bolsters your bones
We often don’t think about our bone health until something goes wrong, for example, having a fall or a fracture. Bones are dynamic and respond to the amount of forces applied to them - which is why astronauts often return from space with lowered bone density. While impact and weight bearing exercises (eg: skipping, jogging, stair climbing) are considered to be best for bones, these aren’t always achievable. The good news is, research has shown that walking briskly (more than 5 km/h) strengthens up a section of your hip called the femoral neck, a common fracture site. If you can incorporate going up and down hills into your walking routine, the bone will be stimulated even further, adding to its strength.
2. Walking improves your mood
Psychological studies have continued to support the fact that walking outdoors is a known moodbooster. These benefits are enhanced when walking near water or green spaces, and with a friend or family member. Particular aspects of mood that are related to walking include decreased anger, tension and depression, and increased energy levels. You may even wish to try mindful walking in nature: purposefully paying attention to your senses and surroundings by tuning into sounds, vision, smells and the way your body feels.
3. Walking reduces your risk of some cancers
There is good evidence that being physically inactive increases your risk of colon and breast cancers. Regular exercise has even been shown to suppress the rate of tumour growth - just another reason to get out there and get moving! But how much is the right amount for reducing your risk? Studies have shown that 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise (walking, gentle cycling) or 30 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise (jogging, circuit training, sport) per day are the optimal dose to keep cancer at bay.
4. Walking boosts your immune function
The function of your immune system has arguably never been more important for your personal health and wellbeing. Walking can certainly influence this: research finds that people who walk for 20 minutes on at least 5 days per week take on average 43% less sick days than those who walk less than once per week. Science has proven that exercise increases the number of circulating natural killer cells (responsible for identifying and removing immune threats) and maintains healthy levels of T-lymphocytes (responsible for shaping our immune system’s memory over the long term).
The take home message: Whilst it feels good to get outdoors and walk, there are multiple changes on a cellular level occurring when we exercise regularly - some of which may not have been discovered yet! Starting small and building up is the most sustainable way to train.
Johansson, M., Hartig, T. and Staats, H., 2011. Psychological benefits of walking: Moderation by company and outdoor environment. Applied Psychology: Health and Well‐Being, 3(3), pp.261-280.
Newton, R.U. and Galvao, D.A., 2008. Exercise in prevention and management of cancer. Current treatment options in oncology, 9(2), pp.135-146.
Pellikaan, P., Giarmatzis, G., Vander Sloten, J., Verschueren, S. and Jonkers, I., 2018. Ranking of osteogenic potential of physical exercises in postmenopausal women based on femoral neck strains. PloS one, 13(4), p.e0195463.
Proper, K.I., Van den Heuvel, S.G., De Vroome, E.M., Hildebrandt, V.H. and Van der Beek, A.J., 2006. Dose–response relation between physical activity and sick leave. British journal of sports medicine, 40(2), pp.173-178.