Walking outside is better than on a treadmill
Walking is seriously good for you. But don’t take our word for it. An interesting study found that brisk walking is as good for your health as running, and produces similar reductions in your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and more.
That’s great news for the walkers among us, but there’s one way to make your regular walks even healthier. Get out of the gym and into the park. Here’s why…
For a start, getting out in the gentle spring sunshine gives you a healthy dose of vitamin D. But whether it’s rain or shine, simply being outside and around nature – even if that’s just the local park – gives you a psychological lift.
“Walking outside means fresh air and, psychologically, provides a greater sense of well-being and achievement,” says personal trainer Laurel Alper, a member of the Register of Exercise Professionals.
But walking outside is about far more than psychological factors. The great outdoors provides a workout that’s more beneficial for muscles and cardiovascular health too.
“Walking on terrain is tougher than walking on a treadmill, and quadriceps and hamstrings work harder outside because a treadmill track helps support propulsion,” says Laurel. “Also, on a treadmill one moves in exactly the same way with every step, meaning movements are repetitive. Outside, on the other hand, uneven ground and pavement breaks utilise more muscles.”
So although it may feel like you’re doing much the same thing, walking outside actually works you harder and makes you fitter, due to the uneven terrain. And even on relatively calm days you’re often walking against a breeze, making it slightly tougher.
That being said, wherever you decide to walk you’re exposing yourself to a wide range of health benefits. Be it a treadmill in a centrally heated gym or a rocky path on a windswept moor, there are ways to make your walks work harder for you.
“When walking for exercise benefits, it is best to walk briskly as opposed to a gentle stroll,” says Laurel. “So what exactly is brisk? It’s the speed you walk at just before you would break into a run.”
She advises that you start slowly then speed up after around 10 minutes, when your muscles are nicely warm. If possible, aim to walk at least three times a week and, ideally, each walk should last between half an hour and an hour.
When you’re an experienced walker you may want to up the ante a bit. “If you want to work harder when walking, add wrist and/or ankle weights and try hill walking,” Laurel advises. “Glutes have to work harder when you walk uphill, so always try to find a good incline along your route.”
And the rest
But it’s not just about what walking can do for you, it’s also about what it doesn’t do.
For a start, it won’t break the bank. Laurel suggests you invest in a decent pair of walking shoes but after that the expense is negligible. The NHS suggests that, for longer walks, you might want to take water, healthy snacks, a spare top, sunscreen and a sunhat in a small backpack, but you probably have most of them already.
“Let’s not forget, walking also burns calories so can help with weight loss and maintenance,” adds Laurel. “At the same time, walking places less stress on the body than running, thus lowering your risk of injury.”
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