Walk more for Fitness, Weight Loss, and Better Mental Health.
How often do you exercise? Three times a week? Four? Five? Every workout you complete will help you get fitter, stronger, and leaner. Your workout efforts will also have a positive effect on your mental health and help improve the duration and quality of your sleep too.
However, despite being a regular exerciser, you could still be classed as sedentary. If you work in an office or spend a lot of your time sitting down, your levels of activity may be insufficient.
And what about your downtime? Do you spend it parked on the sofa in front of the TV? If so, you might not be doing enough physical activity to maximise your health.
The good news is that there is a readily-available antidote to sedentarism – walking. Walking is easy, accessible, and requires no special equipment or training. You can walk every day, even if you aren't especially fit or athletic. Because it's so easy, walking is all-but excuse free.
Before we discuss how to include more walking in your schedule, let's examine the dangers of spending too much time sitting down.
The Dangers of Physical Inactivity
Before exercise became "a thing," most people led physically active lives simply because there was no real alternative. If you wanted food, you had to go out and hunt and gather it, and if you wanted to go from A to B, you had to walk or ride a horse. Physical activity was all but unavoidable.
Fast forward to the 21st century, and it's possible and quite easy to get through a day without doing any kind of physical activity. Labour-saving devices, mechanised transport, computers, and office jobs mean that getting up and moving is almost optional.
Exercise can help but, even if you work out for six hours a week, that leaves plenty of time to be a couch potato. Inactivity can have serious consequences, including:
1. Low energy expenditure
Your energy expenditure is very low when you are sitting because the chair takes the strain, so your muscles don't have to. Burning fewer calories per day makes weight gain likely, and also makes losing weight harder than it needs to be. Being overweight can have a significant impact on your physical and mental health.
2. Metabolic syndrome
Lack of activity combined with an unhealthy diet can lead to metabolic syndrome. This is only a faltering heartbeat away from diabetes and other serious diseases, including coronary heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. Sitting and inactivity are killers that can literally hack large chunks off the quality and length of your life.
3. Bad posture
Long periods of sitting make some muscles short and tight, and others long and weak. This will adversely affect your posture so that, even when you stand up, you look like you are sitting down. This can lead to knee, hip, back, shoulder, and neck pain. Poor posture also adds kilos to your frame and years to your appearance. Stand up straight to look slimmer and younger, instantly.
4. Chronic Pain
For many people, sitting is a pain in the butt! Poor posture, inadequate lumbar support, badly set-up workstations, and merely staying in the same position for too long can lead to chronic, avoidable pain. Pain is a common reason for not exercising, which, ironically, would probably stop the pain in the first place. Prolonged sitting, especially in poor posture, also increases the risk of developing skeletal problems such as osteoarthritis.
Low levels of physical activity are inextricably linked to an increased risk of developing several types of cancer. In contrast, being less sedentary is associated with a much lower risk.
6. Mental Health
Genetics and a host of other factors will determine whether you suffer from things like depression, Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease. However, prolonged sitting increases the risks.
Because sitting is so passive, blood flow slows to a crawl, and that means your brain won't receive as much oxygen as it should. This, experts believe, is why prolonged and habitual sitting can harm your mental health, even if you are doing mentally stimulating activities.
A Few Ideas To Get You Moving
1. Ditch the car/train/bus and walk to work – you'll not only accumulate much-needed physical activity, but you may also save money and time. If walking to work is impractical, try parking or getting off your bus or train a couple of miles early and walking the rest of the way.
2. Ban the car for short trips. Use your car less and walk more.
3. Take the stairs instead of the lift or escalator – labour-saving devices like lifts and escalators are robbing you of walking opportunities. Shun them and walk instead.
4. Walk during coffee and lunch breaks – getting up and away from your desk will do both your body and brain good.
5. Go for a walk with your dog/kids/partner/friends. Encourage your family and friends to walk with you. It's a great way to socialise and provides a shared experience that can be mentally and emotionally enriching.
6. Use a timer to break up long periods of sitting – it's all too easy to spend hours sitting in the same position, especially when you are engrossed at work. Set an alarm to remind you to get up, move, and change position regularly.
7. Start your day with a quick walk – while this might mean you need to get up a little earlier, there is nothing quite like a short, brisk walk to wake you up and get you ready for the day ahead.
8. Look for opportunities to walk more – humans are naturally lazy. Our big brains are programmed for energy conservation. If you look hard enough, you are bound to find even more opportunities to walk more and sit less. Seek them out and view each one as a little victory over sedentarism.
As a form of exercise, walking is highly underrated. Make no mistake; walking is BIG MEDICINE. Sitting less and walking more will have a massive impact on your mental and physical health.
Grab your smartphone, download a pedometer app, and start tracking how many steps you do each day. Don't be surprised if, initially, you barely reach a couple of thousand. Put the tips in this article into practice, and you'll soon reach the walking holy grail of 10,000 steps per day.