Being fit and healthy doesn't have to mean long hours at the gym or pounding the pavements. Simple walking is a much under-rated form of exercise that's available to everyone everywhere, no matter what age... and it costs nothing to do.
According to the NHS, regular walking has been shown to reduce the risk of health issues such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, asthma, stroke and even some cancers. Here's why you should be getting out and about.
We're born to walk
Forget being born to run, scientists believe part of the reason walking is so good for us is because we've evolved to walk, not run. In fact, running and other high-impact exercise puts extra pressure on joints and muscles. A brisk walk won't but it still gets your heart pumping, making your circulation work more efficiently and improving cardiovascular fitness.
Beat back pain
Our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, which often involve hours sitting at a desk, have given rise to an ever growing number of back problems. But the answer to your back pain could be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other. The body is designed to 'shock-absorb' a certain amount of vertical force, whereas long periods of sitting will tighten and weaken the back muscles. Walking helps to strengthen the muscles and discs in the back, reducing your risk of developing problems.
We've all heard that eating fish can make you clever, but how many of us knew a daily stroll could actually make you brainer? According to a 2011 study at the University of Pittsburgh, walking just five miles a week slowed the decline in memory skills in those showing the potential early signs of Alzheimer's, and the further the study's participants walked, the bigger their brains were.
It's feel good and stress free
It is well known that exercise causes the body to release endorphins, the so-called 'feel-good' hormones like serotonin and dopamine. But while a vigorous exercise regime can be stressful, moderate exercise encourages a more positive attitude without being hard on the body or mind. Furthermore, a recent study by the University of Portsmouth revealed that Britain's dog owners gained a better overall sense of wellbeing having been for walkies, even if they had been feeling blue before Fido forced them to get into the great outdoors.
Reduces your health risks
As mentioned earlier, the health benefits of walking have been studied extensively and the results have revealed time and time again just how good this simple form of exercise is. For instance, a case-control study funded by the US Department of Defence and National Institutes of Health earlier this year found that walking for an hour-and-a-half each day could reduce a woman's risk of developing breast cancer by 30 per cent.
Similar research has revealed that it strengthens the heart, potentially reducing the risk of a heart attack by 35%, while postmenopausal women who walk just one mile a day could benefit from higher bone density, thereby reducing their chances of suffering from osteoporosis. And take on the 10,000 steps a day challenge, and you could burn up to 440 calories, trimming that waistline and reducing your chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
So if you are looking to improve your health this year, you could do worse than simply heading out for a stroll. Just remember to start slowly and build your walking regime gradually - and if you are suffering from a chronic health condition, always check with your GP before starting an exercise plan.