With summer just around the corner, many of us are trying to shed a few extra pounds we put on over the winter and festive season. The thought of weight loss conjures mental images of tiring exercises such as running and cycling. However, studies have shown that simply walking for an hour a day and managing the calories you consume, can help shed some of that excess weight.
This article highlights some of the many health benefits of walking, the number of steps you should be aiming to take a day, and some devices that will help you count those steps.
The Health Benefits of Walking
Many people living in the contemporary urban landscape are leading more sedentary lifestyles. In the UK, for example, more than 25% of adults admit to doing less than 30 min of meaningful physical activity per week, and less than 10% do not walk continuously for over 5 minutes over a month. This lack of general activity can lead to serious health complications later in life.
Walking is not only a helpful tool for losing weight, it can be beneficial for one’s overall health. In a study conducted by Sarah Hanson and Andy Jones, which was published in the British Journal for Sports Medicine, they set out to assess the health benefits of outdoor group walking.
The study drew from 42 other studies involving 1843 participants. The findings showed marked improvements in overall health for participants. Some of these benefits include reductions in participants’ systolic and diastolic blood pressure, a slower resting heart rate, a reduction in body fat, and lowered cholesterol level. All of this points to an overall improvement in cardiovascular health. There were no notable adverse side effects reported.
Participants also reported improvements in mental health, such as lowered levels of depression. Physical activity stimulates the production of mood boosting neurotransmitters, known as endorphins.
10,000 Steps a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
Many health and fitness professionals have debated the number of steps needed to maintain a satisfactory level of fitness and cardiovascular health. An article published by CNN, cited a study by Dr. Evan Brittain, an associate professor in the division of cardiovascular medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
His findings concluded that any amount of walking is beneficial, but marked improvements to health were noted in the range of 8000 to 9000 steps a day.
The Health Service Executive (HSE) of Ireland has a priority programme called Steps to Health. This initiative has challenged their staff to incorporate 10,000 steps into their daily routine, encouraging them to take brisk walks during breaks and leisure time. 10,000 steps is the equivalent of walking 8 km a day.
The aim is to build up to 10,000 steps a day. If your fitness levels are lacking, start slow. Build up from however many steps you are taking daily and slowly increase the count in manageable increments till you reach that golden standard of 10,000.
Gadgets to Help Count Those Steps
Technology has made it easier to count those steps every day. Step trackers, or pedometers, are digital devices that calculate walking distance and step count in a specific time frame by sensing body movements using a 3-axis accelerometer.
Most major smartphones, have built in software that can help you track your steps. However, they are less accurate than dedicated devices such as fitness trackers, smart watches, and chest straps.
Besides measuring steps and body movements, these devices allow the user to monitor their heart rates and other useful data.
There are a number of fitness trackers on the market. Their prices vary depending on the brand and the features they offer. You can purchase a respectable fitness tracker for about €50.
If you want a more complex device, there are smart watches which perform the same functions but have a few extra useful features, such as monitoring stress levels and even tracking the amount of hours you are sleeping at night. If you have a few extra euros burning a hole in your pocket, you may consider this option. There prices also vary depending on the brand and features offered by the device. A decent smart watch will cost you about a €100. Higher end models can cost you in excess of €500.
The brisk walks could soon progress to jogging. If you want more accurate data, it may require a more accurate reader.
Chest strap heart rate monitors are, as suggested by the name, strapped around one’s chest. These devices allow the user to measure their heart rate and distance covered. This provides a more accurate measure of the calories burned during the walk/run.
Chest strap heart rate monitors also vary in price depending on brand. You can get a respectable monitor for under €100.
Walking is Just the Start
As you get healthier and your fitness improves, it may inspire you to take your fitness up a few levels. Maybe you decide to buy a membership at your local gym, or you take up cycling, swimming, or running. The important thing on any journey, is to take those first few steps.