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The Power of Just Walking


Walking the exercise underdog?


What makes humans different from other animals? One of the fundamental properties, that distinguish us from our ancestors and relatives, is the unique way in which we walk. We only use two feet and hold our heads up whilst doing so – what you may hear scientists refer to as “Upright Bipedalism”.[i] Now you may say birds, monkeys and apes walk on two legs but unfortunately although they can be described as bipedal animals, they do not possess the ability to walk with an upright spine.


In a study comparing chimpanzees and humans, their ability to walk on two feet was monitored and it was identified that our evolution has allowed a certain advantage to us as humans. We walk much more efficiently than Chimps – they use 75% more energy whilst walking on 2 legs than us as humans.[ii] This evolutionary advantage has freed our hands for carrying food, children and weapons as well as having other huge impacts on our social and physical life. In the modern-day, a large amount of what we all do relies on the fact that we can walk upright and have our hands free for other tasks.


At around the age of one-year-old, a major milestone of child development is walking following learning to sit, crawling and pulling up to stand, yet as we grow older, people tend to take this evolutionary wonder for granted. Taking the lift or car is opted for over walking.

As I am sure most of you will know there are lots of benefits to exercising. The World Health Organisation guidelines[iii] recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, but what does this actually mean? Moderate Aerobic activity can include cycling, dancing, doubles tennis, pushing a lawnmower, hiking and brisk walking. Brisk walking means walking around 3 miles per hour (mph) but for everyone that finds it hard to know what walking 3mph feels like. The sweet spot lies when you are walking fast enough that you can comfortably talk but cannot sing. iii. Essentially incorporating brisk walking into your daily life will help to ensure you reach the exercise recommendation or even exceed it.


A review of the research regarding how many steps per day is a good amount suggests that 10,000 steps are a good rough guideline[iv], however, the body of evidence is not strong enough to say for sure. As mentioned, you must consider that you may reach 10,000 steps a day but if you do not walk briskly you may still not meet the WHO guidelines.

Other than improving your general fitness, walking has been associated with a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s Disease[v], decreased risk of breast cancer [vi], an improved mental wellbeing and quality of Life[vii] [viii], a decreased risk of heart attacks and strokes and decreased risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes[ix] [x]. Some interesting research has been done which has uncovered some of the neurological benefits of walking regularly for more than a year, especially in regard to the natural process of ageing that your brain undergoes.[xi]

As civilisation becomes more and more urbanised a larger number of us are tending to live in the city rather than in the country[xii] and this has been associated with an increased level of mental illness including depression[xiii]. Escaping to nature can be a marvellous time to clear your head, in addition to discovering new routes, places and scenery that you never would have seen before.


Sajan from The Purpose Print Team has fallen in love with walking was because of how accessible it is. He reports “I have had knee pain from a young age which made it very difficult to continually enjoy many other sports that I as it tended to flare up unexpectedly and in large episodes. During the bouts of pain, walking allowed me to gently exercise without putting excess strain on my knees. I often just put on a good playlist, an interesting podcast or listen to an audiobook and then just stroll and explore different parts of my neighbourhood.”


Unlike most other forms of exercise, walking is absolutely free. It doesn’t require you to buy any memberships, fancy kit or equipment. That said a pair of comfortable shoes or trainers are ideal for walking around most city environments. Sajan says “For my Duke of Edinburgh expeditions I invested in a pair of walking boots and they have done me well so far, so I like to wear them, just because they are extremely comfortable but mainly because I never need to worry about getting them dirty From my experience of most other sports fitting it into your life can be very difficult especially if you have a busy schedule like me. The beauty of walking there is always lots of opportunities to sneak it in there.


Next time you are pushing the button to call the lift, consider taking the stairs. Next time you are leaving work, consider walking back home. Next time you are feeling stressed, consider just taking a walk.


Purpose Print Summary

· The World Health Organisation recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week which could translate 150 minutes of walking at a pace where you can talk but not sing.

· Walking has been associated with reducing the risk of many different diseases and conditions.

· Walking is a very inexpensive and accessible exercise form which can easily be incorporated into our lives.


Further Reading

· In Praise of Walking: The New Science of How We Walk and why It’s Good for Us - by Shane O'Mara

· The 4 Pillar Plan: How to Relax, Eat, Move and Sleep Your Way to a Longer, Healthier Life – by Dr Rangan Chatterjee

· Walking Podcast Series – by the National Trust

[i] Capaday C. The special nature of human walking and its neural control. 2002. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166223602021732 .


[ii] Sockol MD, Raichlen DA, Pontzer H. Chimpanzee locomotor energetics and the origin of human bipedalism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2007; 104 (30): 12265-12269. Available from: DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0703267104 Available from http://www.pnas.org/content/104/30/12265.abstract


[iii] National Health Service. Walking for Health. Available from https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/walking-for-health/ [Accessed Nov 1, 2019].


[iv] Tudor-Locke C, Craig CL, Brown WJ, Clemes SA, De Cocker K, Giles-Corti B, et al. How many steps/day are enough? For adults. The international journal of behavioural nutrition and physical activity. 2011; 8 79. Available from DOI: 10.1186/1479-5868-8-79 Available from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21798015 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3197470/.


[v] Norton S, Matthews FE, Barnes DE, Yaffe Kristine, Brayne C. Potential for primary prevention of Alzheimer's disease: an analysis of population-based data  The Lancet Neurology. 2014; 13 (8): 788-794. Available from: DOI: 10.1016/S1474-4422(14)70136-X Available from https://www.thelancet.com/journals/laneur/article/PIIS1474-4422(14)70136-X/fulltext


[vi] Hildebrand JS, Gapstur SM, Campbell PT, Gaudet MM, Patel AV. Recreational Physical Activity and Leisure-Time Sitting in Relation to Postmenopausal Breast Cancer Risk. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention. 2013; 22 (10): 1906-1912. Available from: DOI: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-13-0407 Available from http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/22/10/1906.abstract


[vii] Robertson R, Robertson A, Jepson R, Maxwell M. Walking for depression or depressive symptoms: A systematic review and meta-analysis. 2012. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1755296612000099


[viii] Stanton R, Reaburn P. Exercise and the treatment of depression: A review of the exercise program variables. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 2014; 17 (2): 177-182. Available from: DOI: 10.1016/j.jsams.2013.03.010 Available from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsams.2013.03.010


[ix] Ehrlichman J, Kerbey AL, James WPT. Physical activity and its impact on health outcomes. Paper 2: prevention of unhealthy weight gain and obesity by physical activity: an analysis of the evidence. Obesity Reviews. 2002; 3 (4): 273-287. Available from: DOI: 10.1046/j.1467-789X.2002.00078.x Available from https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1467-789X.2002.00078.x


[x] Albright C, Thompson DL. The Effectiveness of Walking in Preventing Cardiovascular Disease in Women: A Review of the Current Literature. Journal of Women's Health. 2006; 15 (3): 271-280. Available from: DOI: 10.1089/jwh.2006.15.271 Available from https://doi.org/10.1089/jwh.2006.15.271


[xi] Voss M, Prakash R, Erickson K, Basak C, Chaddock L, Kim J, et al. Plasticity of Brain Networks in a Randomized Intervention Trial of Exercise Training in Older Adults. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience. 2010; 2 32. Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fnagi.2010.00032


[xii] Turner WR, Nakamura T, Dinetti M. Global Urbanization and the Separation of Humans from Nature. Bioscience. 2004; 54 (6): 585-590. Available from: DOI: 10.1641/0006-3568(2004)054[0585:GUATSO]2.0.CO;2 [Accessed 1/3/2020].


[xiii] Lederbogen F, Kirsch P, Haddad L, Streit F, Tost H, Schuch P, et al. City living and urban upbringing affect neural social stress processing in humans. Nature. 2011; 474 (7352): 498-501. Available from: DOI: 10.1038/nature10190


Sajan Patel - Purpose Print Team


Disclaimer: Information in our blogs are as accurate and a comprehensive as possible. This is general advice and should not be used as a substitute for the individual advice readers might receive from consulting their own doctor. For other medical professionals reading, it is advised to use your own clinical judgement when interpreting the information and deciding how to best apply this to the treatment of their patients. Please see our terms and conditions page for further information on this.

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