Walk this way: Why walking is the best exercise ever

Walking is not only good for physical health, but also your mental health

In these days of ballet barre, hot yoga, boot camps and spinning classes, the simple act of walking is often overlooked as a great form of exercise, but many studies have shown it can actually be life changing. As well as being a great way to fight obesity, it’s been found to lower blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and prevent strokes.

One person who knows only too well the benefit of a good walk is TV presenter Gaby Roslin. Speaking on White Wine Question Time, the former Big Breakfast host said walking was a super important part of her life. 

“It's changed my life, you know,” Gaby said about walking. “I love it. I like city walking, so it's the fresh air. It's the other people going past you. It's the noise, it's the shops. You're not looking in a mirror – and I don't mean literally looking in a mirror – I mean it's that self, you know, looking at yourself.”

Gaby Roslin attends 'The Savills and David Harber Garden' which celebrates the environmental benefit and beauty of trees, plants and gardens in urban spaces at Chelsea Flower Show

Here are five more reasons why going for a walk today could be the best thing you’ve done. 

1. It keeps you fit

Most people think they have to sweat it out in the gym to reap any health or fitness benefits, but walking can be just as beneficial. In fact, one major study found that walkers benefitted as much as runners from a reduced risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

And it’s not just your waistline that can benefit from a daily walk. Walking for Health, England’s largest network of health walks, says that walking “…significantly reduces the risk of several major health conditions by between 20% and 60%, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, colon and breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.” 

2. It improves your mental health

Gaby says one of the main reasons she walks everywhere is for her mental health. Speaking in The Metro, she said that it gives her time to clear her mind and think.

“There was something in the British Medical Journal recently saying walking is not only good for your heart, it stimulates your mind,” she said. “I get extraordinary ideas. I had an idea for a TV show at the top of Primrose Hill and had the pitch formulated by the time I reached the bottom.”

Gaby Roslin and Amanda Byram appear on this week's episode of White Wine Question Time, hosted by Kate Thornton

Amanda Byram, a fellow guest on White Wine Question Time, believes this is because walking changes your perspective.

“It’s called pattern interrupt – and it's the same with breathing,” explained Amanda. “When you have ‘those’ feelings, you're supposed to stop, you're supposed to breathe seven seconds in, four seconds hold, seven seconds out. It may sound silly, but it literally is a scientific pattern interrupt.

“You've stopped thinking about that thing and that's exactly what walking is. It changes your perspective; it changes the things you're looking at.”

Reports have shown that walking can also be a great alternative to anti-depressant medication and can also help with anxiety.  

3. It’s free – and can actually save you money!

The cost of a gym can put many people off exercising, however, walking is free. Yes, you do need a comfy pair of shoes, but nothing mega expensive. Unlike the gym, walking can actually also save you money and is good for the environment.

As the British Medical Association says, “Active forms of travel such as walking are the most sustainable forms of transport and are also effective ways of integrating, and increasing, physical activity into everyday life for the majority of the population.” 

Don’t take the car, walk – or at least park it a few streets away from your destination and then walk the rest of the way.

4. Everyone can walk

Unlike a new high intensity gym routine, walking is accessible to pretty much everyone. It requires no special training or equipment, plus it’s low impact so is unlikely to cause any injury. It’s also something you can start small with and build up to more activity, so it’s great for those people who are unfit or overweight.

Walking in a group is a chance to make new friends and help lower stress levels

5. Meet new people

As Gaby said, one of the joys for her is walking in the city and meeting lots of new people, but if you want to get even more social interaction out of walking, why not join a club? Ramblers has lots of walks across the UK you can join in. Not only will you make new friends, but exercising in groups has been found to reduce stress levels as well.

So, how far should you be walking?

While Gaby loves to walk for around nine miles – or 20,000 steps – a day, the NHS guidelines say all adults should try and do 150 minutes a week of activity. Even if you only get to do 10 minutes of brisk walking, it can really help your overall health: one study found that just 10 minutes could increase mental alertness, energy and mood.

Hear Gaby Roslin and Amanda Byram talk about their careers, serendipity and their most hilarious TV moments on the latest episode of White Wine Question Time. Listen now on iTunes and Spotify.