How stepping out can boost your physical and mental well-being – and help a vital charity to boot!
Funny old world, isn’t it? Many of us had just simply forgotten one of the easiest, no-nonsense ways to improve our all-round fitness and mental health – until lockdown made us rediscover it. The stay-at-home rules of the pandemic witnessed a huge increase in good, old-fashioned walking!
Whether you live near woods, fields or city centres, walking is a cheap and cheerful way of exercising. The simple act of walking – whether a swift stride to the shops or a leisurely stroll through the park – can have a huge impact on our well-being. And this month sees an added incentive to step out, with the opportunity to Walk for Parkinson’s and give an amazing charity a big boost (see details in the panel with this feature).
Here are just some of the key exercise benefits of walking:
IMPROVE THE IMMUNE SYSTEM
Your nose, gut and airways contain lots of good, natural killer cells (NKCs) which attack potentially harmful viruses before the rest of the immune system, called the b cell immune system, comes on board and starts creating antibodies. The number of NKCs increases when you take a walk.
BOOST MENTAL HEALTH
When you’re walking, you release something called brain derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. The only thing that gets it out into the body is exercise – it’s absolutely dependent on us moving around. BDNF helps reduce inflammation which not only causes physical problems but it can cause issues with our mental health, too. So, by walking and reducing it you can help tackle things like anxiety and depression.
MAKE US HAPPIER
One of the major benefits of walking is stress relief as the act of physical exercise increases concentrations of norepinephrine in the body – a chemical which moderates the brain’s response to stress.
Walking can really get your creative juices flowing and there’s lots of anecdotal evidence that some of history’s greatest philosophers were active walkers. Let’s face it, you are far more likely to have got a good idea if you’re walking through a beautiful forest than if you’re sitting down, doing nothing. It is widely reported that the late founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, regularly held meetings on the move. And research by Stanford University supports his thinking by demonstrating that walking significantly boosts creative inspiration.
Employees who regularly exercise are said to be far more productive and have much more energy than their more sedentary counterparts. Not only that, but 12 noon is apparently the optimum time of the day to reap the benefits so, if you fancy surviving the midday slump, be sure to take that lunchtime stroll.
GOOD FOR METABOLISM
Engaging in low-level activity across the course of the day is better for regulating your metabolism than engaging small bits of intense but infrequent activity. People tend to overestimate the benefits of going to the gym and pounding out an hour on the treadmill when they’ve been inactive for the rest of the day. In fact, there is some evidence that this behaviour can lead to exercise-induced inactivity.
For many of us, the working day involves going from sitting in our car to sitting at our desk, to sitting on the sofa. This can result in a bad posture and back problems. Getting up and walking around regularly can help prevent a bad back and improve our posture.
STRENGTHEN AND REPAIR JOINTS
The more you walk, the more you repair your cartilage, and the thicker the cartilage becomes and the stronger the joint becomes.
Walking, like all forms of physical exercise, boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevents degradation of the hippocampus – a vital part of the brain for memory and learning. Researchers have found that walking for just 20 minutes a day boosts memory and improves overall brain function.