Jack McKenna Jack McKenna28 December 2023 Open Science

Walking for Exercise and How to Stick To It

Walking is a highly accessible and low-impact form of exercise with a host of benefits. It’s a simple and flexible way to meet your New Year’s resolutions to improve overall health and can be connected with other goals. Here, we’ll explore how walking for exercise boosts your health with tips on how to stick to it.

New Year’s resolutions

Many people give up their New Year’s resolutions within a month.

We’re drawn to the fresh start of the New Year, ambitiously setting out to achieve goals far beyond what we can realistically stick to. Sometimes, they’re too demanding or they do not fit into our lifestyles. Either way, our ambitions get ahead of us.

Maybe, this time we should be more realistic: start small and seek to integrate it into our lifestyles.

Health effects of walking for exercise

Many people’s resolutions revolve around exercise. Walking can be a good starting point for those able to do it, as it can boost your overall fitness and begin accustoming the body to movement and activity. Here’s a brief overview of some of the general health benefits of walking:

  • Building up cardiovascular fitness.
  • It is a highly variable activity, meaning you can make it easier or harder.
  • Improving your balance and coordination.
  • Can reduce stress and tension.
  • Building muscle and strength.
  • Improving energy levels.
  • Helping in maintaining a healthy weight.

Insufficient physical activity is associated with a 6‒10% increase in the risk of non-communicable diseases. For reference, the WHO recommends 150‒300 minutes of moderate or 75‒150 minutes of vigorous activity per week.

Where you walk matters

An article in Urban Science investigated ‘green exercise’, the theory that nature may amplify the benefits of exercise. To do so, they measured walkers in both a forest and an urban area.

Interestingly, they found that both walking interventions improved mood and reduced physiological stress. This highlights how walking benefits both mind and body, a connection we recently explored in our article Understanding Psychosomatic Disorders.

Moreover, the authors found that walking in nature conferred additional benefits to the participants’ feelings. It led to further improvements in their general mood and lowered scores for depression and confusion.

Making your resolutions rewarding

One way to make your New Year’s resolutions easier to stick to is by adding elements that make them more fun and rewarding.

As the Urban Science article highlights, walking in nature can further boost your mood. So why not try to visit more green spaces on your walks? If you live in a city, you could try visit all its parks, or even travel to nature reserves nearby.

Or you could tick off the list of coffee shops you’ve been meaning to try, as a reward for walking to them.

If you create rewards and add fun elements to your resolutions, it will make you more likely to stick to them. Especially on days when you don’t feel like getting out for a walk.

Increasing the intensity

We’re all starting from different points in terms of free time, fitness, etc. So, be honest with yourself about what you can and want to achieve. Be realistic but also challenge yourself.

Setting smaller goals throughout the year will help create a sense of progress and achievement. And the good thing about walking is it’s highly variable. You can take light, easy strolls through the woods or power walk up a hill.

Nordic walking

An article in IJERPH analysed people with non-specific lower back pain on a four-week cycle of Nordic walking.

Nordic walking is a form of total-body walking using walking poles. Walkers use the poles to engage their upper body. The poles aren’t primarily supportive, but they can help to improve dynamic balance and stability, reducing the risk of injury.

After the four-week cycle, the participants described a range of benefits:

  • Improved flexibility in both the upper and lower body.
  • Improved upper and lower body strength capabilities.
  • Improved physical fitness.

The authors specifically highlight that Nordic walking can help to break down the mental barriers associated with physical activity for people with chronic pain syndromes. Walking is a great activity for people beginning or restarting their journey to an active lifestyle. Nordic walking is a good example of how we can increase the intensity and go further without risking injury.

Making your resolutions social

Another finding in the IJERPH article was that the group interaction between participants contributed positively to their health self-assessments.

Involving others is a brilliant way to help stick to your resolutions. You can hold each other accountable and encourage each other to meet your goals. Also, it’s a good excuse to spend time with people you care about, or to even meet new people if you join a group or team.

Saving the planet

Transport accounts for around a quarter of CO2 emissions. It’s often the largest segment of an individual’s carbon footprint. Accordingly, walking instead of driving for short trips can reduce your travel emissions by around 75%.

Walking is not only good for you; it can be great for the planet. It’s a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. You’ll help in reducing pollutants from vehicles and traffic congestion and save money you would be spending on fuel.

Connecting your resolutions to your deeper values is a great way to stay committed to them. If you want to be more sustainable and contribute less to climate change, leaving your car keys behind and walking is a great way to start.

Fitting walking into your schedule

Perhaps the most important point about resolutions is making sure they fit into your life. There’s no point committing to walking for 3 hours a day if you only have 1 hour of free time.

Busy schedules require more creativity. Nevertheless, one way to fit walking into busy schedules is to find areas you can naturally integrate it into. If you get a bus to work, you could get off one stop earlier and walk the rest. Your lunch break could involve a 15-minute walk around your local area. You could get up and walk a set number of steps every hour, starting low and building up.

Look for places you can fit walking in with minimal interference with your schedule.

And finally, remember you’re going to slip up every now and then. That’s fine. It’s all about picking your resolution back up and learning from your mistakes. Ask yourself why you stopped and try make things easier when you return to it.

Walking for exercise helps you and the planet

Walking for exercise is a great way to boost your health and reduce your carbon footprint. Furthermore, it’s a great resolution because it’s so easy to start, you can increase its intensity, and you can incorporate it into your busy lifestyle with a bit of creativity. If you’re aiming to become more active, walking is a great way to start.

Also, if you normally struggle with resolutions, remember to make yours rewarding, set smaller goals, make it social, align it with your values, and/or integrate it into your lifestyle. Why not start with Reducing Your Screen Time in 2024?