fitness

No matter how fit or unfit you are right now, this is exercise you're capable of.

Image: iStock

When I tell people how much I love walking, I usually get a weird look in response.

It’s the Jan Brady of the fitness world, lacking the romantic appeal of running, the cult status of yoga and the street cred of CrossFit. It’s often (unfairly) dismissed as an ‘older person’ activity, lumped in alongside lawn bowls and aqua aerobics.

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But if you ask me, walking is seriously underrated. I will rant passionately about the head-clearing, heart-pumping, emotionally restorative powers of a good walk to anybody who will listen.

And since you’re already here reading this article… here are 17 points to consider:

1. It’s free.

Unless you want to get fancy about it, walking doesn’t have to cost you a cent. It’s FREE, you guys. In a world where people are paying upwards of $20 for a single exercise class, this is a rarity.

2. You can wear anything.

Here's what you need to go for a walk: good, comfortable walking shoes, clothing of some description, socks and sunnies (canine companion: optional). Maybe your fitness tracker if you're into that. That's just about it. Of course, if you love fun sportswear go ahead and buy patterned neon leggings and crop tops, but those old cotton shorts and frayed band Tshirt from '99 hiding in the back of your cupboard will do the job equally well.

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3. You can do it anywhere.

Really, anywhere. And at any time.

4. It's an adventure.

Not only does walking keep you active, it gives you a great chance to explore your city/town/region. Bridges, national parks, mountains and beaches are particularly enjoyable spots for a walk - and picturesque, too.

Here are some beautiful tracks for inspiration:

5. No skill required.

Almost anyone can take up walking, regardless of age or sporting ability - it doesn't require particularly quick reflexes, hand-eye coordination, rubber-band flexibility or even the ability to touch your toes (and thank god for that). It's really just putting one foot in front of the other, then repeating the process. Tripping over, rolling an ankle or getting sunburnt are probably the worst things that can happen.

6. It can be social and solitary

Do you consider yourself an introvert? Extrovert? Ambivert? Whatever-vert? Great - walking will definitely work for you. You can do it in groups, you can do it in pairs, you can do it with a pet, and you can do it totally solo. The benefits remain.

7. Walkers are friendly.

Let's face it - gym people can be a little daunting. Ditto cyclists, runners, even the pilates crowd. Walkers, alternatively, are generally chill and friendly. Give them a 'hello' and you'll get one back. They might even let you pat their dog if you're lucky.

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8. It'll make you work better.

Just last week, a study from the University of Birmingham found workers who take a walk during their lunch hour are immediately more capable of dealing with stress in the workplace, and feel more relaxed and enthusiastic. In fact, it seems walking has achieved 'Hip New Office Thing' status - treadmill desks and walking meetings are starting to gain interest. Hot-desking? Pfft, so 2014.

9. It's ace for "catch ups".

Instead of meeting up for coffee, go walking with your mates. I can't recommend it highly enough - and neither can the world of health research, it seems. A recent University of East Anglia study found people who regularly walk in groups reap a multitude of health benefits, including lower blood pressure and resting heart rate, and a decreased risk of stroke, depression and coronary heart disease.

"Our research suggests that by joining a group, people walk faster and further than they would normally walk," one of the study authors, Sarah Hanson, is quoted as saying. "[They] also tend to have a more positive attitude toward physical activity, a shared experience of wellness, and say they feel less lonely and isolated."

Plus, it gives you ample time to debrief on one another's lives.

10. It's satisfying.

Getting places on your own two feet just feels good. Tip: if your workplace is in walking distance, walk it. Outpacing all those cars sitting in traffic will make you feel oh-so smug.

Plus, if you're a naturally fast walker, being able to just stride it out with purpose, vigour and, yes, maybe even some ridiculous flailing arm movements is hugely gratifying.

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11. It's a stress-slayer.

Any form of physical activity will help you process stress, and walking is no different. Clearly, as I am writing this article I'm a little biased towards walking, but the fact you can just pull on your joggers and do it, without having to worry about driving to the gym or finding a convenient class to attend (which could, you know, increase your stress) makes it a stand out.

12. It clears your head

Walking is my thinking time. It's brilliant being able to switch off, plug in my earphones and hit the pavement. There's something about the rhythm of walking and having fresh air hitting you square in the face that allows you to process thoughts and feelings. If that sounds a bit too Reese Witherspoon-in-Wild for your liking, use the time to catch up on the podcasts or audiobooks in your iTunes queue instead. Multitasking, my friends.

13. You can step it up (pun intended).

Want more from your walk? Try hiking. (Image: Wild)
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Although it can be gentle and leisurely, walking can be fairly high-intensity if you make it so. Just ask any power walker or hiker. Go for hills, stairs and steep slopes where you can, and mix it up with sprinting intervals. Like they say in Captain Planet: the power is YOURS. 

14. It's really good for your health.

The list of health benefits associated with walking is long. Really long. Research suggests regular brisk walking can help to decrease risk of Type 2 diabetes, dementia, heart disease, osteoporosis and even some cancers, to name just a few.

Studies show that walking 20 minutes a day will actually make you live longer.

Also, because walking usually happens outside, it gives you a nice big serve of vitamin D which comes with benefits of its own.

15. It's actually good exercise

Obviously, walking alone won't keep your fitness and muscle tone at peak levels - a variety of exercises will do that - but it certainly helps. It can assist in toning your legs, arms and stomach, especially if you focus on holding good posture as you walk; and the calorie-burning powers of walking will also help maintain your weight.

16. It delivers all the good feels.

Sad? Bored? Stressed? Nervous? Overexcited? Heartbroken? Giddy? There's a simple short-term solution. To paraphrase the great prophet of our times, Taylor Swift: Walk it off, walk it off, uh-uh-uh...

But really, it helps. Thank all those feel-good endorphins.

17. There are no scary, lycra-clad instructors yelling at you.

Enough said.

Walkers, anything you'd like to add?

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