Walking is something that we should all do more of – or so we’re constantly reminded. But why might this be the case? Let’s examine some of the purported benefits of this pastime, and see whether they stack up.
Walking improves your physical health
We all know that regular walking makes you healthier – so much so that it almost goes without saying. But few of us really appreciate the extent to which walking improves physical well-being until we suffer an injury, and need to rehabilitate ourselves.
Of course, like any other form of gentle exercise, walking will raise your heartrate, and thereby over time strengthen your cardiovascular system. This in turn will reduce the likelihood of heart failure and associated problems – which, lest we forget, is the biggest killer in the modern world.
Walking can also help improve posture. It strengthens that supporting cast of muscles which help to stabilise those larger, ‘vanity’ muscles. This is particularly so if you’re walking over rough terrain – as you move, the joints in your feet and lower back will be forced to flex and bend to overcome the landscape. This stress will result in those small, essential muscles becoming stronger.
Now, a treadmill can provide a worthwhile workout, but it doesn’t simulate the natural movement for which our bodies are adapted. In fact, it might even increase the likelihood of injury, as it will disturb the muscular balance of your body by stimulating some muscle groups and leaving others dormant. There’s no point in having quads like Usain Bolt if the rest of your muscles are like those of a geriatric. You’re just asking for injury!
Walking improves your mental health
For those suffering from mental illness – whether mild or severe – there is no shortage of potential remedies. But the mind is a poorly-understood machine, and so pharmaceuticals are often imprecise and teeming with side effects. Fortunately, walking represents a natural alternative.
For as long as people have been walking, they’re reported that walking feels good. Many sufferers of depression have also reported that their symptoms are reduced after a long stroll. This anecdotal evidence has been echoed by researchers, and by mental health charities like MIND.
The reasons that this might be the case are not so well-understood. Walking, like any other form of exercise, promotes the release of feel-good hormones like dopamine, which can blunt the edges of depression.
It’s worth also noting that ‘mental health’ is a rather broad umbrella, under which many different disorders might be lumped. Moreover, not all sufferers of mental health problems are the same, and that some might find walking a more effective solution than others.
Even if you consider yourself in good mental health, there’s no reason to think that improving it still further is not a worthwhile undertaking. After all, it’s better to commence an exercise programme before you first have an obesity-induced heart attack than it is to wait until after the fact.
Whilst the term ‘spiritual health’ is so cloudy that some would rather avoid it altogether, it’s worth also considering that a long walk through the countryside might provide time for reflection and act as a great natural de-stressor. If you spend all day staring at a screen, and all night in front of the television, scanning your phone during the ad-breaks to see what some high-profile Twitter personality has to say about something achingly trivial, then a long walk in the woods might provide just the sort of disconnect that’s required.
Walking is cheap
Unlike many other forms of exercise, walking is something that can be done inexpensively. You don’t need any fancy machinery, as you might in the case of cycling – and you don’t need to travel to some far-off corner of the globe, as you might in the case of skiing (though walking can take you almost anywhere you’d like!).
Walking allows you to raise money for a good cause
Finally, if you’re looking for a challenge in your life, then a long hike can represent a great opportunity. There are thousands of miles of great walking routes all over the world. Some challenge events of this sort are gruelling, and will test your body to its limits, while others are gentler.
If you’re looking for a target to work towards, then why not take a look at some of the many charity walks being offered? You’ll not only be able to get some great exercise in preparing for the event, but you’ll be able to see the world – and raise money for a worthy cause in the process.