Walking - the unsung hero to better health?

We are constantly told to find ways to be more active, yet with how hectic our lives have become this seems to be a part of our wellbeing that is often overlooked, avoided or completely ignored.

This can in part be linked to misconceptions about what being more active actually involves and one aspect that is rarely considered is simply finding ways to walk more.

Walking has a huge range of health benefits, many of which are completely disregarded, as it’s rarely associated as an action to take when trying to improve your health.

Let’s look at a real world example that puts these misperceptions into perspective.

I remember a while ago I read a story about a cancer patient who was talking about how their doctor told them they needed to find ways to incorporate exercise into their daily routine and they genuinely believed that this was not possible as they didn’t have the energy or strength to visit a gym.

Through no fault of their own, what they didn’t realise was that simply going for walks around the block or through the nearby park would be massively beneficial to their health.

Not only would it get them moving, but it would also expose them to fresh air, give them time to enjoy their surroundings and help their general state of mind.

Exercise has been proven to vastly improve the quality of life of cancer patients, as well as other people with serious illnesses and has even been linked to helping with treatment and recovery.

In the article the reporter stated that the patient had dismissed the idea of walking, as their preconceptions as to what were involved with exercise had led them to believe these actions wouldn’t be good enough to achieve anything.

What can we learn from this story?

It’s fair to say this is a wide spread misconception and barrier faced by many, as they underestimate the positive effects that can be brought on by small actions and I think simply walking more is an amazing place to start when trying to increase your activity levels and improve your health.

This is because of the fact that it places a minimal amount of stress on the body, is something most people can engage in with complete control and most importantly without getting overwhelmed.

After all, you can go at your own pace, in an environment you feel comfortable and it can be fit in sporadically throughout the day at various different intervals.

What does the research say?

While at first glance it may not seem like much, several studies have found 30 minutes of brisk walking a day can reduce the risks of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes by as much as 30%, as it lowers your blood sugar levels and improves your body’s response to insulin.

Researchers at the University of Boulder Colorado have also suggested that regular walking can reduce the risk of stroke from between 20 to 40%.

So it’s pretty clear to see that this ‘small action’ can have a profound impact on your overall health. 

So why do we dismiss its use?

Part of the problem is society and the media have built up perceptions in our minds of exercise being all about big meathead guys and anorexically thin girls posing on Instagram.

We are shown the latest work out plans and sold on the idea that if you can still stand or haven’t thrown up by the end of the session you haven’t worked hard enough.

We’ve been led to believe it takes gruelling hours of exhaustion every week to be healthy and anything short of that just isn’t worthwhile, leading to people accepting the way things are and continuing to do nothing instead.

We all remember those nightmare PE lessons, being shouted at in the cold and rain or being forced to do an activity we hated and got no enjoyment out of.

It’s no wonder people are deterred or frightened by the prospect of exercising, as in many cases they have only ever had negative experiences, therefore creating a misguided preconception of all activities being the same.

When in fact the likelihood is there will be something they would find satisfying and enjoyable.

Even now as someone who regularly works out, when I think back on some of my past experiences with exercising it completely puts me off the idea.

At school I always dreaded pretty much all of the sports and activities we were thrown into and that’s part of the reason why I lived a sedentary lifestyle for so long, as I tarnished all exercise with the label as something I wouldn’t enjoy.

This is why I can completely empathise and understand why your average everyday person who has never really tried to be active has a complete disassociation with the concept, especially since it’s portrayed as primarily being for people they can’t relate to and don’t want to be like.

I often come across people who are apprehensive to joining a gym, attending a class or taking up a new sport or activity, as they view them as only being for ‘fit’ people and not for them.

This is an outlook that we desperately need to change on a national level if we want a healthier and more active society, as it’s human nature to fear or avoid what we don’t understand or feel like we won’t fit into.

Regardless of your current level of fitness you could benefit from incorporating more walking into your daily schedule and this can be done in a variety of ways, from taking the stairs, to going out to get lunch, walking to work, or parking in the spot furthest away from the shops.

Always remember that improving your wellbeing is all about slow gradual progress, with small changes all adding up to make a profound difference in not only how you look, but also how you feel.

So no matter how busy you are there will be ways you can in one way or another squeeze more walking into your day and by doing so you will reap a whole range of health benefits.

With that being said, what are some ways you could add more walking into your everyday routine?

Byron Morrison

(this is why Compass offer the Route to Health service, getting people more active at work has beneficial effects on illness, concentration and subsequently productivity)