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walking outside through fields

May is ‘National Walking Month’. As the weather improves and people slowly return to offices, it’s good to remember why fitting a stroll into your day is so good for you.  

Why is walking good for you?

I was inspired to write this Blog after listening to Dr Chatterjee’s podcast ‘Feel better, Live more’. On episode #160 he interviews Neuroscientist Professor Shane O’Mara. As a Physio, I am familiar with many of the health benefits of any physical activity. But, this podcast struck me as I learnt that just walking had been proven to actually make us more sharp, more creative & intelligent.

Our Hippocampus in our brain, the structure that plays a major role in learning and memory, actually grows. It’s never too late to start either. It’s been proven just a 1.5 mile walk 3x a week for a year in a group of early 70 year olds actually reversed the clock, with test results showing improved memory and attention, and improvements on psychological tests taking years off their biological age. As opposed to the decline and shrinking that occurs in the sedentary population. The brain is like a muscle that needs to stay strong and not wither. Walking is one of the best anti-aging tools available to us… and it’s free! 

Professor O’Mara’s favourite quote:
“You only get old when you stop walking; you don’t stop walking when you get old”.

The NHS website sums it up perfectly: 
Walking is simple, free and one of the easiest ways to get more active, lose weight and become healthier. Sometimes overlooked as a form of exercise, walking briskly can help you build stamina, burn excess calories and make your heart healthier. You do not have to walk for hours”. 

How much walking is enough?

In the past decade the 10,000 steps-a-day goal has been branded as the amount you need to do to positively impact your health. However, recent research from Harvard Medical School has shown that, on average, approximately 4,400 steps a day is enough to significantly lower the risk of death in women. This was compared to approximately 2,700 steps daily. So you can see here an increase of just 1,700 – which is less than a mile, daily, is enough to improve your health stats. You don’t need a pedometer, you can use your smartphone’s step counter.  

My Grandpa lived to just shy of his 102nd birthday. He was a tall very upright, bow tie wearing, dog owner and walked daily. Walking a mile with me on Wimbledon common only months before his death. He said, his time in the Navy had instilled in him aged 18 how little bursts of physical exercise were key for staying alert and focussed.  

Walking has been scientifically proven to increase our problem-solving capacity. I tried a mini experiment with my 4 year old. She was very stuck on a puzzle and we went out for a 10 minute walk and on our return she returned to the puzzle and completed it with no issues. Seriously though, if you are stuck on something get out for a walk and return to it. Many great writers, philosophers and mathematicians were great walkers.  

friends walking outside

6 easy ways to build walking into your day:

  1. Firstly, even if you have your lunch at home or bring in your lunch to the office do a circuit round the block at least three times a week in the middle of the day. You will be more efficient all afternoon as you boost your oxygen levels. Our bodies need regular movement not just bursts in the gym or at the start/end of the day.
      
  2. Secondly, when commuting, get off a stop early and walk the rest of the way.  
  3. If you are working from home take a meeting/work call off zoom and walk & talk. Even better to lift your mood walk in nature or a park. 
     
  4. When planning to go out plan how you could fit in a short walk as part of your journey there. Or around me there are so many new road layouts from LTNs, it’s now quicker for me to walk a few roads away and then get a taxi than be picked up at my door. 
     
  5. As gyms re-open see your journey to the gym/class as part of your workout. Try to walk there if you can. 
     
  6. Finally, with social distancing rules, lifts/elevators will be at less than quarter capacity. Don’t wait, take the stairs.  

If you have any aches or pains that stop you walking for pleasure, we have a team of Specialist Physios available in St John’s Wood, Chancery Lane, Chelsea & Pimlico who can help you in person or online. If walking is really challenging on land, we even have Hydrotherapy available again now in Chelsea. Contact us to find out more.

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Lucy Rix

Lucy is an exceptional physiotherapist who enjoys a challenge and seeks to inform, treat and motivate each patient to achieve their goals. Having graduated from Southampton in 2005 she started her career in the NHS working at a leading teaching hospital -University College Hospital but has been in the private sector since 2009. She is a keen sportswoman.

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