Six good reasons to go for a winter walk

It may be cold outside, but a brisk 30-minute walk could help lower your risk of dementia, stroke, heart disease, cancer and more. Here are six good reasons to wrap up walk and get your boots on!

Cheerful senior people walking on the beachSee also: Walking may burn more calories than previously believed

See also: Over-60s 'can cut heart failure risk by walking 20 mins a day'

1. Walking helps you live longer
Walking is a fantastic cardio exercise, lowering levels of bad cholesterol and increasing levels of good cholesterol, while also strengthening the heart. All it takes is a brisk 30-minute walk every day to prevent and control high blood pressure - reducing the risk of stroke by up to 27 percent - according to the Stroke Association. Research shows that people who walk regularly are also 60 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and 20 percent less likely to develop cancer of the colon, breast or womb.

2. Walking is good for your joints
Whether you have a dodgy knee or arthritic hip, regular exercise can help you stay mobile. A low-impact workout, walking is much kinder on the joints than jogging and many other forms of exercise. A study from America found that walking 6,000 steps per day – around three miles – may protect people with, or at risk of, osteoarthritis of the knee from developing mobility issues.

3. Walking helps you lose weight
You don't need to go running to lose weight. Walking burns around 75 calories per 30 minutes. Increase your speed from 2mph to 3mph and that increases to 100 calories. According to a study from the London School of Economics, regular brisk walking is the best exercise for maintaining a healthy weight. Researchers found that adults who regularly walk for more than 30 minutes tend to have a lower body mass index and smaller waist circumference than those who do sport or go to the gym.

4. Walking prevents dementia
According to the Alzheimer's Society, regular exercise is the most important thing you can do to prevent dementia. Research shows that older people who regularly brisk walk are more likely to avoid brain shrinkage and preserve memory as they age.

Professor Kirk Erickson, a neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh, recruited more than 100 older adults who confessed to doing little if any exercise . Half were randomly assigned to walk for 30 to 45 minutes three days a week. The rest spent a similar amount of time doing stretching exercises.

Medical scans showed that those who walked had a slightly larger prefrontal cortex and hippocampus, two brain regions linked to planning and memory, a year later. Volunteers who took part in the study scored higher on spatial memory tests, and some reported feeling more mentally alert.

"With modest amounts of exercise, we were able to increase the size of these structures that typically deteriorate and precede the cognitive complaints that often come in late adulthood," Erickson said.

"You don't need highly vigorous physical activity to see these effects. People are misled to believe they need years of vigorous physical exercise. But it only needs to be moderate, and not even for that long."

5. Walking boosts vitamin D
Around one-in-five people in the UK has low vitamin D levels. While most of us get enough vitamin D from sunlight on our skin in spring and summer - and from eating a healthy, balanced diet – it's a different story in winter.

Even if it's cold outside, wrap up warm and go for a walk. You'll give your vitamin D levels a boost, which is important for bone health and your immune system as well as helping to lower blood pressure. According to a recent US study, those with the lowest levels of the vitamin are twice as likely to die prematurely as those with the highest.

6. Walking helps improve your mood
If you're feeling tired or down in the dumps, a brisk walk is a great natural energiser and mood-booster. It boosts circulation and increases oxygen supply to the body, helping you feel more alert, while also releasing feel-good endorphins which reduce stress and anxiety.

Studies show that a brisk 30-minute walk is just as effective as antidepressants in mild to moderate cases of depression. According to mental health charity, Mind, country walks in particular have been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and raise self-esteem.
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