Gym membership you hardly ever use, never quite make it to those Pilates classes? How about walking as a cheap, accessible (and hard to find a genuine excuse to avoid) alternative?
May is National Walking Month, so with the weather improving, it’s time to get out and about and improve your well-being at the same time.
The charity Living Streets, the UK charity for everyday walking, is behind this idea and has some interesting thoughts to inspire you into action on their website, www.livingstreets.org.uk. For instance, ever tried a ‘walking meeting’ (this might work for an informal catch-up meeting), or incorporating a different new street into your route to work each day, or banning yourself from the usual lunchtime sandwich bar and forcing a move to new choices slightly further away from base? All these approaches can help you know your local working environment better, while getting you more active at the same time. Walking will boost your circulation, increase the oxygen supply around your body and, as a result, make you feel more alert and awake. All good news!
But beware of feeling smug once your pedometer or app clocks up 10,000 steps. While this was once considered the ultimate daily target, it emerges that this was the number used by a Japanese pedometer manufacturer in the run-up to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and 10,000 steps was a nice, round number for their promotion!
While walking will probably make you feel better and help build fitness, how effective is it really? In January this year Michael Mosley, BBC presenter and doctor, produced The Truth About Getting Fit which showed that the Active 10 approach was more effective than a daily dose of 10,000 steps. Active 10 is a set of three daily sessions of 10-minute blasts of fast walking. Based on the principle of high intensity interval training or HIIT, in Mosley’s study the Active 10 group were also told that their aim was not to amble but to get their pace up so that they would be really working their heart and lungs. Their walking sessions amounted to only 3000 steps per day or 1.5 miles, but these were of higher intensity and in the end, more effective health-wise than the group who tried to take 10,000 steps a day (and often failed; it takes considerable willpower to combine this rate of activity with full-time work and other daily commitments). Try out his theory and take three 10-minute blasts a day. Walk fast till you feel your heart rate rise, and as a guide - in his words ‘you should be able to talk, but not sing!’
Unfortunately, the full programme is no longer available on iPlayer, but you can see Michael Mosley doing a 5-minute high intensity workout that you can try at home yourself at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05w69pz, or you can download your own Active 10 App via the NHS at: https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/active10/home#2DuGJB5cUxsp806h.97.
Apart from the physical health benefits, you may also experience an improvement in your mood and general quality of life. In fact, a clinical study recently published supports the link between taking exercise and improving quality of life in some patient groups. A paper in the British Journal of Cancer (doi:10.1038/s41416-018-0044-7) has shown that HIIT reduces tiredness and improves self-esteem in testicular cancer survivors, and particularly in those with the lowest fitness levels. The study showed that participants in a 12-week exercise programme saw significant improvements in energy levels and self-esteem compared with those who just received their usual follow-up care. They also felt less tired and had more vitality three months later. The programme included repeatedly walking fast uphill for two minutes on a treadmill set at an incline and then at a slower pace on the flat for the same length of time.
Whatever your approach, getting more active this May could start a habit that will improve your fitness and vitality for the longer term. Go back to the Living Streets website for podcasts to listen to as you walk that will also help you take control of workplace stress or provide guidance on general mental health issues.