The benefits of walking to improve your health 

Lace up your boots and enjoy the great outdoors

When it comes to exercise, walking may not be the first activity that springs to mind. It’s easy to see it as a more sedentary activity, picturing a gentle stroll and stopping for coffee and cake along the way.  

But walking is one of the best things you can do for your overall health and offers multiple health benefits. Walking is also the perfect place to start if you’re new or returning to exercise.  

Female hiker with arms outstretched at the top of a hillCredit: Shutterstock / Ground Picture
Walking goals can be one mile, or 100 miles

As we age, if you already struggle with joint issues from previous injury, or conditions such as arthritis then high-impact cardio activities such as running can have a detrimental impact on our joints, resulting in knee, back or hip issues.

So, by reducing impact while still giving your heart and lungs a good workout – is a great idea, and walking can really help. 

But walking is far more than just something for those looking for an alternative – it’s a wonderful, wide-ranging activity that will see you join a worldwide community as soon as you start to see yourself as a ‘walker’ – that it’s so easy to begin walking, as we’ve discovered. 

As a personal trainer and fitness instructor I’ve had first-hand experience of how transformative walking can be. I coached a group of 20 people to walk 30 miles for charity, with nearly half of those aged 50 or over. The group ranged in fitness levels and abilities, from ultra-marathon runners to those who were new to distance walking, including one lady who had just had a baby.  

Group of female walkersCredit: Exceptional

The training took place during 2021, starting in the January lockdown when gyms were forced to close. I challenged clients to virtually walk the distance from Land’s End to John O’Groats, culminating in a 30-mile hike.  

We started walking individually, then in small groups, increasing our group numbers and distances as restrictions eased. It took several months, but the payoff was huge. Group members lost weight, back or joint problems eased, mental health improved and of course, the social aspect of a walking group meant firm friendships were formed.  

Walking challenge group participants in WellsCredit: Exceptional

Kath Needham, group participant, said: “I know walking makes me feel good if I do it, but I often lack motivation. Getting involved with a group with a target in mind was superb. To begin with, because of lockdown, it was just a group of people telling each other the distances they’d walked.

“By the end, and at the thirty-mile event, friendships had formed, we were all out walking together and just having fun. We all ended up fitter, losing weight, and feeling better in ourselves without finding it a chore.

“There were huge benefits for my mental and physical health. I was driven to begin by a small amount of accountability and an element of competitiveness, but then I found a massive amount of physical and emotional benefit.”  

The benefits of regular walks are huge and there are simply loads of reason why you should be trying it out today. 

Walking group hiking across the Mendip hillsCredit: Exceptional

Improving heart health

The NHS recommends that all adults should aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous activity if you’re already active. This can be broken up into ten-minute intervals, or take the form of an hour long walk, or, really, whatever works for you.  

Regular exercise conditions the heart and lungs, making breathing easier and improving circulation. It also boosts your immune system and reduces the risk of stroke and type 2 diabetes by helping to lower blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and body fat.  

Walking can also help ease the pain of arthritic joints by keeping them moving without placing them under too much stress. It helps strengthen muscles and keeps cartilage healthy.  

A 2019 study by the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that just one hour of walking a week could enable those with osteoarthritis to maintain their ability to perform everyday tasks such as getting dressed or running errands 

Group of male and female walkers with walking polesCredit: Shutterstock/ Robert Kneschke
Better eating can help us be more active

Make your muscles stronger

Walking (particularly outside as opposed to a treadmill) helps build strength in your muscles. The varying terrain, hills, steps and other obstacles help us with balance, posture, and coordination, too. 

 This has a positive effect in all areas of our daily lives, reducing the risk of falls, while making day-to-day activities easier. This ranges from gardening, carrying the shopping or small children, getting up and down from the floor to golfing, skiing, and much more – this all starts with a simple stroll.


Strengthen your bones and joints

Flexibility naturally reduces as we age, but regular walking helps keep the joints moving. Our posture improves too; we are more inclined to keep our chest lifted and head up as opposed to hunching over.  

Walking helps combat osteoporosis and osteoarthritis by improving bone density; your legs and feet must support your body, so your bones must work harder and become stronger.

Female walker in field with dogCredit: Shutterstock / Ground Picture

Weight management

Annoyingly, weight management becomes more difficult as we get older, especially if we allow ourselves to become more sedentary. Finding a brisk walking pace that leaves you slightly out of breath is a perfect way to shed a few pounds since it fires up your metabolism and helps your body burn fat as a source of energy.  

One of the effects of regular exercise is that you may feel encouraged to eat more healthily so you can feel better while doing your chosen activity, thanks to weight loss and better fuelling.  

Improving many health conditions

Walking helps to reduce blood sugar levels, which in turn can help reduce our risk of type 2 diabetes. It also improves circulation as your heart and lungs work better, a key factor in reducing the risk of blood clots that could lead to a stroke.  

High blood pressure can also be reduced by regular walking, as well as the aforementioned bone and joint disorders. This is because walking makes the heart work harder to keep blood pumping around the body, and over time this makes the heart stronger and more efficient, thereby lowering blood pressure.  

Female asleep in bedCredit: Shutterstock / Fizkes

You’ll sleep better

We all know that feeling of sinking into bed after a busy day, tired but happy. Keeping active increases the effects of melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate our sleep cycle.  

Walking can also help erase many niggles, aches and pains that can often keep us up at night as it keeps our joints moving and helps increase flexibility.  

Improve your mood

Walking and other exercise releases endorphins, the body’s happy hormones, which have been proven to help with symptoms of depression and anxiety. Being outdoors also reduces tension, stress, and helps us think more clearly.  

There’s also the social side of exercise, where company is also shown to improve our mood. Whether you choose to walk with a partner, friend, or join a walking group, walking is a great way to socialise, meet new friends or catch up with your current ones.  

Couple hiking with polesCredit: Shutterstock/ Zoran Pucarevic

Live Longer

Let’s save the best until last, right? Walking helps you live longer. Yes, it’s true. The fitter, healthier and more active you are, the greater your longevity.  

It stands to reason after all; if you’re keeping active, you’re looking after your bones and joints, reducing the risk of many diseases and health risks, and improving your heart health.  

A study by the American Cancer Society found that all levels of walking were associated with a lower mortality risk. The average age of participants in the study was 69 years, with around half of those saying walking was their only form of physical activity.  

Those who walked on average two hours a week or less had a lower mortality rate than those who got no exercise at all, and those who got over and above the recommended level of physical activity through walking had a 20% lower risk.  That alone is a reason to get outside and get some steps in.  

Back if a female woman pulling on a hatCredit: Shutterstock / Encierro

It’s time to get walking

You’ve got the list of reasons you should be walking, and you’re raring to go. Make sure to check out these top tips before you get going:  

  • Invest in some good footwear. Make sure you have some supportive trainers, walking shoes or boots to get going. Look for boots or shoes that support the ankle joints, that have good grip and that are weatherproof.  
  • Plan your route. Take a look at some local walking routes online, or head to a well-known park, beauty spot or beach. If you need a flat path, make sure your route is fully accessible. Check out a walking app, such as Footpath, or the OS website for ideas. 
  • Take water. Particularly if you’re walking a long way or the weather is warm, it’s important to stay hydrated. Pay attention to the weather forecast and take extra water if it’s going to be hot; you need to stay hydrated.  
  • Find your walking buddy. A friend, partner, or even a dog. A short stroll alone is fine, but there’s safety in numbers and if you’re setting off somewhere remote with difficult terrain, you’ll need someone else on hand, just in case. (Don’t forget a phone, of course, and make sure it’s charged). 
  • Oh, and don’t forget: enjoy it. The world is filled with beauty and walking in the outdoors is a wonderful way to experience it.  
Becky Fuller

Written by Becky Fuller she/her


Becky Fuller is a fully qualified Personal Trainer, specialising in strength and conditioning for over 50s. Becky’s focus is helping people to become stronger both in body and mind, and to move well without pain. Becky also has many years’ experience working as a freelance journalist, writing for a wide variety of publications such as Screen Rant, Geek Feed, and Daily Actor. She also regularly reviews theatre productions for UKTW.

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