Walking for health

Walking is one of the safest and most effective forms of exercise to do and regular walking can help to increase energy levels, increasing productivity throughout the day. Building a walk, or several small walks, into your daily routine can encourage good habits and can make significant improvements to your overall health and well-being. The government recommends at least 10,000 steps per day and research has shown that a minimum of just 10 minutes brisk walking a day or 150 minutes a week, can significantly reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

How and where?

There are so many different ways to add more walking into your daily life:

Catching up with a friend, walking the dog (or a friend’s) Popping to the shops on foot instead of driving Walking part of your journey to work Planning a daily walk so that it becomes part of your daily routine Small mini walks Instead of sending an email to a colleague in the office walk to their desk and talk face to face Take a longer route to your destination Park the car at the far end of the car park Use stairs instead of escalators or a lift Use public transport – helps to increase steps as you will need to walk to stations, bus stops etc (and good for the environment!) Join a walking group To avoid injury and muscle soreness, warming up and cooling down are always important.

Wearing layers will help to keep the body at a comfortable temperature and walking boots or trainers with socks should be worn to help absorb impact – walking on grass is preferable to pounding on pavements! Towns and cities have parks and green areas, and local councils often have nature walks or nature reserves where changes in nature and different seasons can be observed. This can be a great way to relax and enjoy new scenery. You can always make the walk more interesting by varying your route and speed. Joining a group or club is a great way to make walking a healthy habit and to keep you motivated.

Walking in the morning helps the circadian rhythm to reset. Melatonin aids sleep, and levels are reduced with early morning walks allowing them to gradually increase throughout the day to aid sleep at night.2

What happens in the body when we walk?

Endorphins are chemical messengers, or neurotransmitters released in the brain, that interact with receptors that are responsible for the happy or high feeling often described post-exercise. They are involved in pain relief, stress reduction, immunity, sense of well-being and slowing down the ageing process. In addition, other neurotransmitters are released during walking – dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin all help with mood regulation. Elevated serotonin boosts mood and is associated with appetite and sleep; and adrenaline, the stress hormone (fight or flight), can be regulated with walking. Levels rise during walking, which stimulates the heart to pump faster, and the capillaries to open to allow greater blood flow.

Blood from the digestive system and liver diverts to muscles within the skeleton and chemical reactions occur as hormones instigate glucose production from fat. Lactic acid is the by- product which builds up during exercise, resulting in a reduction on the pH level of blood surrounding the muscles. An abnormal pH is associated with health conditions such as diabetes, and heart disease. Resting is therefore essential to allow metabolism of lactic acid when the muscles are exhausted and stop contracting.

Rib cage muscles pull the diaphragm as breathing increases, becoming deeper, allowing more oxygen to circulate and blood is pumped around the body in veins to transport oxygen to the heart. The muscles around the lungs strengthen. The body has over two million sweat glands and sweating during walking helps the body to regulate temperature.