Walking is better exercise than going to the gym – and other reasons we should walk more

Walking is great exercise, may well be the solution to winter blues, a way to lose weight and be smarter, according to scientific research

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Walking more could solve most of our problems, and we're not just saying that for the sake of a great opening line. If you're planning on walking more this year, whether to get fitter overall or to burn off some extra calories, or just to feel better and improve your health generally, there is solid scientific proof that walking helps to achieve all of the above goals, and more. 

First of all, the health benefits of walking are enormous, in particular the positive effects of walking on the human heart. According to Harvard Health, walking is as beneficial for human heart health as running - you'll just need to do more of the walking than you would of the running. 

Next, walking may well be the best way to maintain a healthy weight, even more so than going to the gym. According to the NHS, this doesn't mean that you shouldn't do any other type of exercise (and there is some evidence that exercising at the gym is better if you're trying to lose weight), but it is true that a brisk 30-minute walk at least five days a week has been linked to lower BMI rates and slimmer waists. Moreover, frequent walking has been shown to improve our metabolic rates, which also helps to maintain a healthy weight. 

And what about our mental health? This is where the research gets even more interesting. According to Shane O'Mara, Professor of Experimental Brain Research at University College Dublin, walking can not only alleviate mental health conditions such as depression, but it has also been shown to make us smarter by keeping our brains engaged. When we walk regularly, we become more extraverted, less neurotic, more creative and better able at solving problems. 

Not that we necessarily need all this scientific proof to know that walking feels good and makes us feel well. How much walking should we be doing? The recommendation is pretty consistent across all sources: half an hour a day at least five days a week. For most of us, this will be pretty achievable by either skipping a couple of stops on public transport every morning, or going out for a walk during lunch.

What's even better is that you don't need any special gear to walk. The perfect workout regimen is free for all. However, you can invest in a Fitbit to make tracking how much you're walking easier – and to keep you motivated.