Walking your way to good health
No doubt you are thinking that the days, weeks and months are currently merging into one now we are currently in lockdown, so you may well not realise that May is actually ‘National Walking Month’. What good is a national walking month, I hear you cry, when we are currently rather restricted in where we can go and walk?!
Although this is true, it is also true that, now more than ever, we should keep moving and walking, even if just in our gardens, round the block or up the stairs. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise and is generally easy for most people to do. Even better, it’s totally free, no expensive membership required. Just 30 minutes walking every day can increase cardiovascular fitness, reduce excess body fat, and strengthen bones and muscles, all of which are vital at any age. Although it is difficult and restricted right now to get out and about as we are used to doing, we still need to try and make the best of a bad situation and one way of doing this is by ensuring we try and maintain not just our physical health, but our mental health too and walking is great for both.
Much research over the years has proven time and time again that walking in all different environments, whether rural or urban, can improve mental wellness for most people, but especially those who already do suffer with mental health problems. One large report done in the USA in 2018 concluded that walking is associated with improved mental health as well as neurological health including lower incidence of depression, reduced risk of dementia, improved sleep quality as well as lower anxiety levels, the latter being something we could probably all do with right now!
For those of you who live in the countryside or with plenty of greenery around you, or even just the greenery of your garden, this is likely to have an added benefit with studies showing that walking in green spaces is even better for mental health. So, if safe to do so during this time of isolation, making the most of these green open spaces is an excellent way of keeping well during this difficult period.
Motivational levels amongst many people can be struggle at the best of times, add coronavirus and lockdown into the mix and that’s a real recipe for motivation levels to plummet. Walking is a good way of trying to increase your motivation levels and this will work best if you set yourself realistic goals, set a target and/or set yourself a specific challenge. For example you could set yourself a specific number of steps you want to achieve on your walk and aim for that (if you don’t have a step counter there are many step counter apps you can download on your phone), you could think of a journey you have always wanted to do or a mountain you have always wanted to climb and walk the distance of that route, whether it be up the stairs, round the garden or up the driveway. Make the goal personal to you, and you are more likely to see it through to the end.
If moving more and walking is something a little bit alien to you, your body may initially resent you for forcing it to do more work, but worry not as certain foods can help keep you a little more supple if you decide to partake in National Walking month. One such food is olives and olive oil. Both these contain oleocanthal, a powerful antioxidant that prevents the production of pro-inflammatory enzymes in the body and therefore reduces inflammation. In fact, Oleocanthal has a very similar action to the prescribed drugs called NSAIDs (Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), which are used widely in the treatment of arthritis. Research has shown that just three and half teaspoons of olive oil is roughly the equivalent to a 200mg Ibuprofen tablet, but with this amount of olive oil equating to 400 calories, it’s not advisable to be consuming large amounts unless you plan to do a LOT more walking!!
Oily fish is perhaps one of the best anti-inflammatory foods available, with its healthy content of Omega 3 fatty acids. The reason why Omega-3 fatty acids are so fantastic at reducing inflammation is because they help inhibit the inflammatory response on a cellular level, and thus can help stop inflammation developing. It has been shown to reduce joint swelling and reduce pain levels, especially in those people with arthritis. Oily fish includes salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies and sardines and you should aim to consume 2 portions a week. Why not add salmon to a risotto, anchovies to your pizza or simply sardines on toast, all of which will healthily boost your omega 3 fatty acid levels and help keep your joints healthy whilst walking.
We know the physical act of walking helps improve bone strength and also improves the endurance and strength of muscles too, both of which become increasingly important as we age. It’s also therefore important to ensure we boost bone and muscle health even more by consuming foods high in calcium and vitamin D, such as dairy products or fortified dairy alternatives.
If you want to try and boost your walking power and perhaps put on a bit of a spurt, then consider adding beetroot to your menu. Beetroot and beetroot juice, have been shown in many studies to help boost sport performance and help in your exercise recovery. Why is this? The simplified explanation is that beetroots contain nitric oxide, which causes the body’s blood vessels to widen and dilate, resulting in increased blood flow through the body. Increased blood flow, means increased oxygen to muscles and tissues, which of course is in high demand during exercise, including walking. The dilating effect that beetroots have on blood vessels is also the reason why beetroot has been shown to lower blood pressure, so it can be very helpful for those suffering hypertension too. Walking itself is an excellent gentle form of exercise anyway and has been show in itself to be very helpful for reducing blood pressure over time. If you add beetroot to the mix too you will be power walking before you know it.
With many people not able to work at the moment and perhaps struggling to find things to fill their time while at home, why not use National Walking Month as a focus and starting point to improve your health and wellbeing. If you are looking for further motivation, I think perhaps one of the greatest inspirations of very recent times, who helps epitomise just what can be done in terms of walking in this period of lockdown and uncertainty, is Captain Tom Moore who spent much of April walking lengths of his garden, to raise millions of pounds for the NHS. An achievement at any age, but especially at almost 100. If that doesn’t inspire you to get walking then not much will, so dig out those walking shoes and start walking yourself well.
· The restorative benefits of walking in urban and rural settings in adults with good and poor mental health, 2011. Health and Place
· The mental and physical health outcomes of green exercise, 2005. International Journal of Environmental Health Research
· Psychological Benefits of Walking: Moderation by Company and Outdoor Environment, 2011. Applied Psychology: An International Review