Power walking

Walking is an often an overlooked and under-rated form of exercise, writes fitness trainer Katie Fownes. Here she explains the benefits and advises us all to stretch our legs out a bit more often

When working with members and clients we always advise them to walk when and wherever they can. Walking is easy to do, inexpensive and can be enjoyed as a group or individually. For most of us walking is an undervalued form of exercise. Not only is it good for us but it can also be a great way to socialise and explore our local area. Research shows that a mere 12 minutes more exercise a day could reduce risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, mental health problems and obesity. Therefore, walking is a convenient fix.

WHAT MUSCLES DO WE USE?

The calves (gastrocnemius) are instrumental for walking and running; they propel the body forwards into a stride and act as a cushion when the front foot returns to the ground. Our quads, hamstrings and glute muscles pull our leg forwards and stabilise the body, while walking giving the legs a great workout. In total walking uses around 200 muscles, add in a chat while you walk and you use an extra 72.

MAKE IT INTERESTING

If you’ve started walking why not listen to an audiobook or if walking inside, watch TV while on the treadmill? You could even complete intervals, this is where you walk at a faster pace until you reach the next bench or for two minute intervals at a time; this will work you harder and keep your routine fresh. Another idea is to try groups like the Ramblers and networks such as Walking for Health which organise local walks from power walking to scenic trails. Walking is sociable without the calorie consumption; did you know that to burn off one M&M you would need to walk the length of a football pitch? That’s a lot of walking for one bag. Save the calories by swapping your cinema night for a country walk.

WALKING VS RUNNING

Running is a high impact cardio exercise which uses the same muscles and similar biomechanics as walking but places more stress on the body. Therefore it is less accessible for those with pre-disposed injuries or stiff joints. Walking is great for beginners looking to increase their physical activity, it can improve fitness and as part of a balanced diet and exercise programme can aid weight loss.

WILL WALKING MAKE ME FITTER?

Those who do a lot of high impact exercise, such as running, will find it harder to see a fitness level increase from walking compared to those who do less strenuous activity. Most new walkers will see an increase in their fitness levels within four to six weeks of regular walking. The benefits will differ greatly between individuals depending on length of walks, intensity and current health. However we do know that exercise releases endorphins which improve mood and leave us on a natural high. Walking outside will also increase oxygen levels which is great for circulation and a good workout for the lungs. If you need further incentive remember that on average every minute of walking can extend your life by up to 2 minutes.