Walking is better exercise than going to the gym – here's how to get the most of it

Did you know that walking is as good for your health as gym exercise? Here's how to maximise the fitness potential of your daily walks

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Can't get enough of walking? We're with you: it improves our mental and physical health, aid weight loss, and allows us to be close to nature. Whether you've been walking for years or only just started during lockdown, it's always a good time to reap the many health benefits of this simple activity. Better still, there is solid scientific proof that walking helps to achieve more than just basic fitness goals. 

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1. Walking helps heart health

Let's talk health benefits of walking first: they are enormous, in particular the positive effects of walking on our hearts. According to Harvard Health (opens in new tab), 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 (not that hard for most of us). 

2. Walking helps you lose weight

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 (opens in new tab), this doesn't mean that you shouldn't do any other type of exercise (and there is some evidence that exercising at the gym  – or at least doing proper home workouts – 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. 

3. Walking promotes better mental health

And what about our mental health? This is where the research gets even more interesting. According to Shane O'Mara (opens in new tab), 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. And, of course, while we're all suffering the stress and anxiety of coronavirus and lockdown, good mental health is all the more important.

4. Walking improves bones, joint, and muscle health

If you're trying to lose weight and aren't particularly happy with the result despite doing everything right, walking more could be a solution because walking improves muscle toning. When you lose weight you start losing muscle quicker than fat: redress this imbalance by increasing your activity levels. 

And – walking has been shown to improve bone and joint health, making you less prone to joint pain and arthritis in later years.

5. Walking is even better with walking sticks

Have you always wondered why some people choose to walk with walking sticks, even though they're just walking around the local park? There's actually a very good reason to introduce walking sticks to your daily walk: using them gives your upper body an amazing workout, including your chest and arm muscles. 

Live in a hilly area? Even better! Use the sticks to help you up challenging terrains.

6. Walking can be alternated with running for a super workout

Want to take your walking to the next level? Start alternating the walking with short bursts of running, as short as a minute at a time at first. In fact, this technique can pave the way for a fitness or marathon training programme. Check out Couch to 5k (opens in new tab)for inspiration.

7. Walking uphill is even better

The more your walk uphill, the more muscle groups you're working. If you're walking uphill with a walking stick – even better, because you'll be exercising more of your upper body along with your legs and thighs. Also, walking uphill is even better for your heart health than ordinary walking. 

How much should I walk?

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 at the moment – and when life goes back to normal, simply skipping a couple of stops on public transport every morning, or going out for a walk during lunch will do the trick.

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 (see our list of the best) to make tracking how much you're walking easier – and to keep you motivated.

Anna is Content Editor at Real Homes. She moved to the world of interiors from academic research in the field of English Literature and photography. She is the author of London Writing of the 1930s and has a passion for contemporary home decor and gardening. At Real Homes, she covers a range of topics, from practical advice to interior and garden design.