Walking is an under-appreciated yet extremely effective workout with a lot of benefits.
Considered a low-impact aerobic exercise, walking benefits cut across all body systems, from musculoskeletal, to cardiorespiratory, and even improves brain functionality.
Alex Omweri, a physiotherapist at Activezone and Sports Injuries Clinic says, unlike other forms of exercises, walking engages muscles, and joints and also exerts tensile forces that improve bone formation and bone absorption all the while applying little pressure to articular structures.
“Walking exercises are a simple and effective activity that people of all ages and fitness levels can do. This low-impact activity is easy on the joints and can be done at any time of the day," he says.
Who is mostly advised to take up walking for a workout?
“The geriatric population (the seniors), those with cardiac or respiratory problems, and those with joint degenerative diseases like osteoarthritis should consider walking as a workout,” says Mr Omweri.
“While I would love to say that walking can be just as effective of a workout as running, in fairness, the two really should not be compared,” says Maurice Oduor, a yoga teacher and an acrobat who runs Baptiste Power yoga in Nairobi.
Running, due to larger muscle recruitment, greater forces exerted and faster motion capability will always have the proverbial leg up on walking, he points out.
But while walking may not be a better workout, it may be a better exercise choice for some people as they will also end up achieving their goals just like any person would with a different workout.
Besides the physical, walking also had mental benefits.
“Walking alleviates depression and fatigue and improves mood. Importantly, walking helps you save money and reduce death risk by 40 percent,” says Mr Oduor.
According to studies, a daily walk can reduce the risk of stroke in both men and women. It also cuts the days spent in a hospital each year.
A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine particularly found that those who adhered to a walking programme showed significant improvements in blood pressure, slowing of resting heart rate, reduction of body fat and body weight, reduced cholesterol, improved depression scores with better quality of life and increased measures of endurance.
While the physical benefits are notable, the mental boost that can be obtained from adding a walk to one's daily routine may be more immediate.
“By reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety, walking also improves mood, reduces feelings of hopelessness, and increases self-esteem. This is thought to be due to the release of endorphins, as well as the fact that walking can provide a sense of accomplishment and help to reduce feelings of isolation," says Mr Omweri.
Walking has also been shown to improve memory and prevent the deterioration of brain tissue as one ages.
Psychologists studying how exercise relieves anxiety and depression also suggest that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout when it comes to relieving the symptoms of anxiety and boosting mood.