What are the benefits of walking?

Step right up – it’s time to get walking on a regular basis to improve your health and wellbeing. Not only is walking ideal for all ages and fitness levels, it’s free to do.

Walking is good for any age or fitness level, and you can do it whenever you want. And you don’t need to spend a lot of money – all you need is a supportive pair of shoes.

Walking can also contribute to the Ministry of Health’s recommended amount of physical activity per week for adults and children.

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There are lots of reasons to make walking a regular part of your everyday life.

How does regular walking help?

Making walking part of your regular routine helps reduce the risk of:

It also improves your:

  • heart rate and circulation
  • muscle strength
  • bone strength, which decreases your risk of osteoporosis
  • balance, which reduces the risk and severity of falls
  • use of energy, which helps you maintain a healthy weight
  • overall health and wellbeing
  • self-esteem
  • stress levels.

This table shows the effect of physical activity on the prevention of different health conditions and reduction of symptoms.

Walking at a brisk pace for 10 minutes or more brings more health benefits. You can warm up and cool down by walking slowly at the beginning and end of your walk.

Obviously, you can walk alone or you can arrange to walk with friends or whānau. You can also search online for a walking group to join.

Tip: If you arrange to meet a friend at a specific time and place, or set a walking date with a whānau member or partner, it can give you the motivation to ‘show up’. Having a companion to chat to while you walk can make the steps fly by.

Try walking different routes to keep it interesting – you never know what you’ll discover when you’re out and about.

How to get started with walking

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to do it, unlike joining a gym. All you need is a supportive pair of shoes (you can buy new or pick them up more cheaply on Trade Me or at a sale) and you’re ready to go.

Make sure you also wear loose, comfortable clothing, slap on some sunscreen and sunglasses, and drink lots of water. If you have headphones, try listening to music or a podcast as you go. Remember to keep an eye out for traffic once you get your headphones in!

Choose a time that fits into your lifestyle and make it part of your regular routine, eg, if you’re an early bird make your walking shoes the first ones you put on each day. Or, if you’d rather walk during your lunch break, pack your shoes into your work bag the night before. When you make a plan, you’re more likely to do the activity.

Start off slowly

If you’re starting out, walk slowly and just for a short distance (even if it’s just around the block) then gradually build it up. You can make it more challenging over time by increasing the distance you walk, the intensity (eg, up hills) and the number of times you do it each week.

Change it up

To avoid getting bored, try taking a different route around your neighbourhood or walking in different places such as the beach, a park or on a walking track. It’s cool to know you can walk round your local community or head to a beach or park or wherever takes your fancy.

Think about your safety

When you go out for a walk, make sure you stay in a safe, well-lit area. Walking with a friend or whānau member can also make you feel safer as you’re not alone. If you are walking beside a busy road or early morning or evening it might pay to wear some high visibility clothing or something reflective. You might see cars coming, but can they see you? Clip on LED reflective badges for hats, waistbands and shoes are available, and you can get reflective tape to add to shoes or clothing, so it doesn't have to cost a lot to make yourself more visible. 

Be patient

You may not notice any benefits straight away from becoming a regular walker, but don’t give up! It can take up to 6 weeks to feel the health benefits. Just know you are doing your body (and mind) a world of good.

Ways to get more walking into your day

You can also incorporate more walking into your day by:

  • walking to the shops instead of using the car
  • taking the stairs instead of the lift
  • getting off the bus a stop earlier than normal
  • joining a walking school bus
  • walking your dog (or your neighbour's) before or after work.

Aotearoa New Zealand is full of great places to walk – both short and long walks. Visit your local council website for ideas on where to walk in your area.

Also, check out Green Prescription, a free health and wellness support service to help you and your whānau improve health and wellbeing. The service includes support for getting more active.

Please visit a healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about increasing your exercise levels or starting a new fitness programme.

References

  1. How much activity is recommended? Ministry of Health, NZ, 2021
  2. Walking Ministry of Health, NZ, 2020
Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.