Why WALKING is the Holy Grail of exercise

Editor Anna Magee has got first-hand experience of the incredible weight loss benefits of walking, not to mention the power it has to inspire creative thinking 

Around 10,000 people a month Google the terms ‘can you lose weight by walking’? Well, I am here to tell you. Yes. Big fat yes. A millions times yes.

Walking can help you lose weight, you can do it anywhere, it doesn’t make you too sweaty to be passably presentable at a meeting and it’s absolutely free (except maybe for when you start getting obsessed with new fashion walking boots, which this season probably will happen).

Walking for weight loss – it’s a thing

For the last three months I have been walking from Healthista HQ in St. John’s Wood, London to Oxford Circus tube station every night which takes around 45 minutes a few times a week. I have often been joined by our Nutritional Director Rick Hay.

About three weeks ago, Rick walked into work clutching his shirt at the waist and said, ‘Look at this! All my clothes are loose around my belly and I haven’t changed anything I have been doing – except for our walks.’

Rick has lost weight from the area he had tried everything to lose weight around before. He is now convinced our humble evening walks have given him back his abs. A bit like Kel from Kath and Kim here.

I workout with weights about four times a week and go jogging for about half an hour three times a week, so I couldn’t really relate to the weight loss bit, though I had found it difficult to put any weight on, in the last three months. It got me thinking.

For fat burn – walking is the biz

Turns out, Rick was right – walking torches fat better than even running or weight training.

According to my FitBit Blaze, which uses heart rate tech to track my calorie burn, out of all the workouts I do, walking is the one in which I spend most time in the fat burning training zone – this is usually around 67-74% of your maximum heart rate (MHR).

In fact, all the walks I did were fat burning – as opposed to my weights and running workouts, which seemed to get me into the cardiovascular training zone (75-85% of MHR) or even the peak (85%+ MHR). This is great for conditioning the heart and lungs and building endurance, but apparently, not as good for fat burn. Take a look at the log from my FitBit:

walking-fitbit-results-holy-grail-of-exercise-walking-benefits

If you look at the bottom two, walking is 100% fat burn zone, while the others are more in the cardio and peak zones.

Don’t believe my Bro science? Research says so too.

In 2015, a study by the London School of Economics found that those who engaged in ‘regular, brisk walking’ for longer than half an hour had lower Body Mass Indexes (BMI) and smaller waists than those who did other exercise such as going the gym or playing football or rugby.

The results were particularly true for women, people over 50 and those on low incomes.

Dr Grace Lordan, who led the research said: ‘The results thus provide an argument for a campaign to promote walking…Given the obesity epidemic and the fact that a large proportion of people in the UK are inactive, recommending that people walk briskly more often is a cheap and easy policy option.’

It seems that the best benefits are from managing 35 minutes of walking continuously somewhere in your day and then topping that up with other bits and pieces of walking throughout the day.

An obesity expert once told me that 10,000 steps a day is fine for maintaining weight but to lose it, you should aim for about 15,000 steps a day.

To put that into perspective, a 35 minute walk – this will change depending on your height – for me who is five foot four, takes about 3800-4000 steps.

But that’s just the beginning of the benefits of walking

In the words of Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the US, walking is ‘the closest thing we have to a wonder drug.’ This is echoed in the research.

According to Harvard Medical School, ‘walking can have a bigger impact on disease risk and various health conditions than just about any other remedy that’s readily available to you. What’s more, it’s free and has practically no negative side effects’.

And if you’re walking only for health, you don’t even need to do as much, they say. ‘Walking for 2.5 hours a week—that’s just 21 minutes a day—can cut your risk of heart disease by 30 per cent. In addition, walking has also been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes and cancer, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and keep you mentally sharp.’

Not a bad endorsement for a do-anywhere, no-equipment activity that doesn’t even require any new kit.

The brain effect. OMG the brain effect

HMS goes on to say:

‘Walking can even help your mood. A number of studies have found that it’s as effective as drugs for decreasing depression. It can help relieve everyday stresses, too. Tension starts to ease as the road stretches out in front of you. Mood-elevating endorphin levels increase. Many people and that walking helps clear the mind, too—you may even and the solution to a problem that’s been bugging you’.

Because Rick and I walk at the end of the day, it’s invariably the end of a day that’s been filled with trials and tribulations, up-against-it deadlines, intense highs and a few lows that is simply life in general at HealthistaHQ (you learn to love the nightmares of tech glitches along with the highs like the endless free nut butter, tea and veggie crisp supplies – thank you Pukka, Clipper, Emily’s Crisps, Itsu to name a few…).

But while at my desk I seem to be in machine mode – typing away as I am now, with tunnel vision toward completing my to-do list. This machine will rarely let a creative thought interrupt its mission to Get Things Done – let alone a moment of relaxation.

But on our walks, Rick and I seem to not only solve our own often complicated personal problems but also those of Healthista, sometimes even those of Palestine and Israel with hypothetical solutions and a surprising number of good ideas that seem to sprout from our walks. While many seem to get fly away and get absorbed into the atmosphere of London Town, never seen or heard from again, many actually become reality.

The idea for this very column my Editor’s Diary, along with a new development in our videos launching next week and a super-exciting Healthista event happening on October 9th (more on that tomorrow) were all ideas that came out of our walks.

Of course, we spend a lot of the time talking nonsense and that’s most of the sheer fun of it.

But occasionally our brains seem to come to life, like we’re on some kind of drug (which according to HMS we probably are).

‘OMG we’re on fire tonight!’ I will typically exclaim after a particularly bright bulb moment whilst we power down Marylebone High Street like a tag team in the urban hiking Olympics.

Turns out – this isn’t Bro science either. We didn’t dream it Walking makes you creative.

In 2014, Stanford researchers found that walking boosts creative inspiration. They examined creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat and found that person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 percent when walking.

So, what’s your excuse not to?

Related Healthista content:

The at-home walking workout

Best walking shoes that aren’t trainers

The walking holiday where you can drink wine and lose weight

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