OK, I’m biased: going for a walk is one of my favourite ways to unwind. So I couldn’t resist a big shout out for Walk to Work Day this Friday. Here in the UK our Chief Medical Officer recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week – but a significant number (estimates put this at 20 million people in the UK) aren’t getting enough exercise. Maybe you’re pushed for time to get to the swimming pool. Maybe you haven’t got the money for a gym membership. Maybe you have other reasons that make exercising tough for you. But the majority of us are able to walk for at least 30 minutes each day. And if we did that, we’d not only beat the guidelines and get fitter, we’d get heaps of other benefits as well:
- Our cognitive performance improves; for example, working memory sharpens more when we’re moving than when we’re sitting still. See this Psychology Today post for more.
- There’s evidence that regular walking helps regulate our mood and boosts self-esteem.
- Research reported by the BPS suggests walking improves our mood even when we don’t expect it to (I’ve always found a walk a great way of getting past grumpy. And yes, I walk often!)
- Getting out into nature – an inner city park or riverside will do just fine – lowers stress levels and improves mood, as reported in the New York Times.
Ready to get started? Here are 6 suggestions to try:
- Get off the bus, tube or train a stop (or two) before your destination and walk the rest of the way.
- Lace up your trainers and go for a walk at lunchtime. I think this works a treat in the Northern hemisphere when mornings and evenings can be dark and daunting. You can walk alone to get some headspace, or with colleagues to catch up. Or arrange to meet a friend for a walk and grab a bite afterwards (not before – just in case you’ll get chatting and stay sitting!)
- Try walking meetings. Yes, that’s exactly what you do – walk and talk at the same time and set goals, brainstorm ideas, share opinions, make decisions, or just chat about how things are going 1:1 or in a small group. The senior managers of one London-based firm hold their planning meetings as walks.
- Try a longer walk as a fund-raiser, whether as part of a national effort or for a charity your employer sponsors.
- Get an app, whether that’s for logging your time/distance or plotting and mapping your route – British Heart Foundation has some recommendations, as does Paths for All, and there’s my personal favourite, iFootpath.
- Join a club and meet new people, keep each other going and discover new walks together.
Stay safe: let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back, and take your smartphone with you – more safety tips from Ramblers. And check out these two great resources:
- Walking for Health is the brainchild of the Ramblers and Macmillan. The scheme lists over 1,000 walks and you can find one near you via their site.
- For the more adventurous, the British Mountaineering Council (BMC) offers a free booklet with essential, potentially life-saving, tips for people who are new to hill walking.
Dawn is the author of ‘The Feedback Book’, available now at bookstores and on Amazon.