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Read on to find out how and why good old fashioned walking is good for the heart AND the soul.
The delicate scent of blossom is in the air as you leave the house on your way to work, you can hear the busy hum of a lawnmower in the distance and the birds are happily tweeting in the trees above your head. Your step feels a little lighter as you move away from your doorstep, and the May sunshine immediately warms your back as you walk. Smiling at the promise of summer, you pull your sunglasses down over your forehead and…climb into your car.
There’s a biological reason why fresh air and sunlight make you feel good inside and out but the hectic whirlwind that is modern life has meant that many of us have seemingly forgotten just how good it feels to be outside. Even when we are out and about, more often than not our minds are still preoccupied with schedules, work commitments and fulfilling our daily obligations that we seldom get the chance to breathe deeply and genuinely savour that spring sunshine and birdsong.
Find out more about the advantages of walking with our three reasons why walking is beneficial to health and wellbeing and three quick tips to increase your walking activity.
Most people would agree that setting out for a pleasant stroll on a warm day can work wonders for the mind. The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other improves circulation and taking in those irresistible deep breaths of fresh air increases oxygen levels in the bloodstream, giving the brain and other vital organs a boost.
Regular gentle exercise like walking has also been found to improve mental wellbeing and is known to reduce stress - a common contributory factor for anxiety disorders and depression. Spending time walking outside also boosts wellbeing by providing fresh air, sunlight and exercise – all established drug-free combatants of depression.
In addition, if you are walking with a companion, walking together seems naturally conducive to talking together – and can provide the ideal opportunity to mutually chew over any nagging worries or concerns, catch up on each other’s news or even just to make idle chit chat.
Regular walking can provide the time and space required to process and sort thoughts and emotions and will naturally wind you down, which can be particularly useful if you work in a high-stress job. Walking can also provide your mind with valuable time for contemplation and creative thought. According to his biographer, Apple founder Steve Jobs took regular long walks, not just for exercise, but also to provide space for mental problem-solving and he is said to have regularly conducted business meetings while on the move. A 2014 US study found that creative thought increases by as much as 60% during walking, possibly as a result of increased blood flow and improved circulation.
Regular walking helps to keep your circulatory system healthy and, according to NHS Choices, may significantly reduce your chances of developing cardiovascular problems including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and stroke. Regular walking also boosts the immune system and may reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and various cancers.
Regular walks outside could also reduce your risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency. According to NHS Choices, many people may develop a shortage of this essential vitamin over the winter months, when sunlight levels are often inadequate for our bodies to produce it naturally via sunlight on the skin. According to current NHS advice, most people can make enough vitamin D by spending around 15 minutes outside each day between March and October in the sunlight with forearms, face and hands uncovered – or a walk in the park in a short-sleeved top or shirt. If you plan to be outside for longer than this, use a sunscreen with a minimum 15 SPF. People with darker skin may need to spend a little longer in the sun to produce enough vitamin D.
Vitamin D is an essential nutrient which helps to regulate calcium and phosphate in the body, required to maintain healthy bones and teeth. A deficiency can lead to a softening or weakening of the bones and even deformity if bones are still growing, for example in children. For more information on sunlight and vitamin D, visit NHS Choices.
If you would like to get out and about walking more often, consider the following steps to success.
A busy lifestyle can sometimes mean little time left over at the weekend for any leisurely walking activity. If this sounds like you, perhaps you could consider committing yourself to walking part or all of the way to work once or twice each week. You could save yourself pounds on petrol, fit in some valuable exercise, give yourself time to ponder the finer things in life and help the environment all at the same time. Whether you commute to work by bus, train or car – try parking further away or getting off the bus a stop or two early.
The NHS estimates that the average person walks between 3,000 and 4,000 steps each day. To find out your average, you may wish to consider buying a pedometer - a device worn on the waist or arm which measures each step you take - which can cost as little as a few pounds. If you work out your average over the course of a week, then you have a target to aim towards.
If you’d like to find places to explore on foot in your locality or would like to find local ramblers groups to join some guided walks in your local area, visit British charity the Ramblers website and pop in your postcode.
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