Summer is coming and the weather has started getting warmer. As the days get brighter and the nights get longer, many of us find we want to spend more time outdoors enjoying the sun. And what better way, than to soak up that Vitamin D, while boosting our physical and mental health?
Going for a simple walk can have numerous benefits and better still, is something we all have access to or can squeeze into our day. Whether hiking a trail or popping out for a quick 20 minutes around the block at lunchtime, putting one foot in front of the other can have multiple benefits. Check some of these out below, and consider where you can fit in a quick walk during your day.
Fitness and Physical Health Benefits:
When we think of exercise, many of us conjure up images of sweating in a gym or going for a run. But exercise doesn’t have to be vigorous or intense to gain access to all of the projected health benefits – with walking being one of the best low-intensity options out there! Walking can help to improve our overall fitness, as well as our cardiovascular and bone health. When we exercise we put stress on our bones (making them stronger) and our working muscles need more oxygen. This causes our circulatory and respiratory system to kick things up a notch, bringing more oxygen into our blood stream to be delivered around our bodies. The more often we do this, the more efficient our heart and lungs become (as they need to be trained just like any other muscle in the body) – increasing our overall fitness levels and allowing us to walk further or up another flight of stairs with more ease. As our heart and lungs become better, so too does our cardiovascular health – reducing our risks of things such as heart attacks and strokes. A pretty good trade off, for a quick walk everyday!
Immune System Benefits:
Similarly to looking after our cardiovascular health, walking can also have a great impact on looking after our general immune system. Running through our bloodstream is a clear fluid called ‘lymph’. This fluid works in with lymph nodes around our body to help fight bacteria and infections, keeping us healthy and ready for each day. Just like the circulatory system moving blood through the body, lymph fluid moves through the body with the assistance of our ‘skeletal muscle pumps’. Skeletal muscle pumps are essentially contraction of our muscles (particularly in the lower body), which squeeze our veins and arteries tight – helping to push blood (and lymph), back up towards the heart. So the more our muscles contract, such as through the repetitive movements of walking, the more movement we achieve of lymph throughout our body, ultimately helping to strengthen our immune system.
Social and Wellbeing Benefits:
Walking doesn’t stop at just the physical benefits. Being an activity that everyone has access to and something that can be performed anywhere, walking can be a great tool for boosting our social connection and mental health. Grabbing a buddy, or getting together a local walking group presents us with the ability to catch up with loved ones, make friends with acquaintances, strengthen working relationships and improve our social connection and communication. But the benefits don’t stop there! Going for a walk can also be a good time to assess our own mental health and wellbeing – whether alone or in the company of others. Taking time out of our busy day to get outside in the fresh air and amongst nature can be very restorative, helping us to reset and take a deep breath before carrying on with the rest of our day. Walking can be a great opportunity to practice mindfulness. Focus on your breath as you walk along, or become extra aware of the sights, sounds and smells you encounter on your walk. As you focus more on putting one foot in front of the other and the environment around you, you may find this helps to clear busy thoughts, and give a welcome boost to your own mental health.
Walking doesn’t need to be hard in order to be rewarded with benefits like these, and can be cumulative throughout the day. So with that in mind, consider how you can fit a few more steps into your daily routines – whether a quick zip around the block at lunch, walking the dog daily, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking an extra block away, or maybe even squeezing in the odd weekend hike.