Walking for the body and mind

At the moment, for many of us, getting out for walks is invaluable – it not only provides a change of scene from our home life, but also gives us some time outside (hopefully in nature) and a chance to get some gentle exercise. Although it must be said – anyone who has marched up a steep hill and stood puffing at the top, taken an all-day walk and felt the achy legs the following one, or climbed a mountain would not see walking as ‘gentle’!

Let’s take a moment to highlight some of the brilliant benefits of walking: it can be done anywhere, anytime, without any equipment (bar a reasonably sensible pair of shoes), and for however long you like, to whatever level suits you. You can do it alone, or in a group. It’s probably one of the most flexible exercise forms there is.

If you are able to access a walk in the woods, parks or fields near you, getting out into nature can bring extra benefits. Seeing ‘green’ gives your mind a boost as well as your body, and can be shown to reduce stress and lower blood pressure. In a general sense, just being out in the fresh air and moving your body can give you a chance to think through your day (or just switch off from your day), reduce anxiety, improve the quality of your sleep or maybe even spark creativity.

Walking can also help your digestion – it can help food to travel through the body, and can be beneficial to ease up your stomach if you are experiencing constipation. After a big dinner, walking can help your body regulate blood sugar.

Due to the boost in circulation and oxygen supply, going for a walk can actually give you energy. It can also improve your posture, especially useful if you’ve been stuck at your desk all day working.

Walking puts very little pressure on your joints, too, so can be an easy way to start exercising if you are not already doing so. For those who are suffering from health conditions, starting small and working up to longer and more challenging walks can reap gradual rewards. Walking is a great way to safeguard your brain health as well – walking more than six miles a week has been shown to help prevent dementia.

It’s important for all of us to keep our hearts as healthy as you can, and walking is great for strengthening your heart. It has been shown that walking can reduce your risk of heart disease and strokes. For example, a brisk walk for half an hour a day can reduce your risk by nearly a third.

May is ‘National Walking Month’ and while it’s obvious that we are not able to celebrate that quite as much as we would like to at the moment, we hope that many of you are able to get access to some beneficial walks near your home, or not too far away.

This time of year, the evenings are gorgeously light, and lately seem to be often bathed in the lovely glow of the warm sunshine we’ve been experiencing – so there’s plenty of time in the day to fit in a walk. You’ll be making sure you are getting some Vitamin D at the same time. Some people prefer the crisp fresh air of an early morning, listening to the birdsong and feeling like you are ‘up with the lark’. Others might prefer a post-lunch amble, or an after work stretch of the legs to mark the end of your working day.

Check out the hashtag ♯Try20 as part of this month’s campaign to get some resources and ideas to boost your health by committing to 20 minutes of active movement per day. It also has links to things that those people who are shielding at home can try to ensure that they too keep active.

All of us can benefit from walking, however big or small we can manage at the moment – let’s take time to look after our physical and mental health through accessing the streets, the parks, the woods, the garden – whatever you can do will help both your body and mind.

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