While walking can offer a number of health benefits, you can make it a richer experience with these three high-value add-ons. Giving you even more reasons to make this easy form of ‘nature therapy’ part of your life.
Less than half of the adult population in Australia is getting enough physical activity for good health1, and if you’re not among them, a good regular walk might be just what you need.
Walking can be accessible to most people, across a wide range of ages and abilities. There are no membership fees, no height or weight requirements, no specialised training sessions to attend, and no purpose-made clothing or equipment that need be purchased. You don’t need to book your walk in advance or pay for the privilege. And yet, walking offers myriad benefits.
In this article
The benefits of walking
For such a simple activity, walking offers a whole range of positive returns, including:1
- Weight management: Walking may help you achieve a healthy weight and in doing so reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, musculoskeletal conditions and some cancers.
- Mental wellbeing: Regular walking can reduce anxiety and depression, and has been linked to improvements in mood, self-esteem, and sleep quality.
- Health improvements: Inactivity is a leading risk factor for mortality. According to VicHealth’s Physical Health Strategy, if we all walked for 30 minutes a day, the national disease burden would be reduced by 26%.
- Improved aging: For seniors, regular exercise can improve your balance and coordination, and could halve your likelihood of falling or fracturing a hip.2
And if this isn’t enough to get you into your walking shoes, let’s take a look at some ways you can upgrade your walking experience with some value-added bonuses!
1. Walking as a mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness is well known for its potential to reduce stress and anxiety, manage pain, improve sleep, and boost overall wellbeing.3
It’s simple to turn your walk into a health-promoting mindfulness activity.
- Find somewhere to walk with some form of nature, even if it’s just an inner-city park with a few trees or gardens.
- Stay present to your senses. What can you see? What can you smell? Can you feel breeze or sunshine on your skin? Notice different sounds, see the flowers on the tree you’re passing. Pay attention to feelings in your body. The invitation is to notice these things with a ‘beginner’s mind’, without jumping to judgement or stories.
- When you notice your mind wandering, bring it back to the senses. If judgement arises, return to the senses. If you catch your mind offering you something to worry about, make a commitment to return to it later, and return to the senses.
2. Walking as ecotherapy (nature therapy)
Exposure to natural environments is associated with improved mental health, including reduced depression and anxiety4 and lower stress levels5. It has also been linked to improved working memory, cognitive flexibility, and attention regulation.5
One study even showed that just 40 seconds of gazing at a flowering green roof led to better performance on a dull task and there is evidence that even watching videos of natural settings can improve positive emotions. So don’t worry if your ‘nature’ isn’t full immersion in the jungle. Just find your nearest park or creek and go for a walk to reap the benefits.
While there’s no definitive cut-off for exactly how much you need, some research has suggested that about two hours a week in nature—whether it be in one long hike or spread out over short daily wanders—might be optimal for health and wellbeing.5
3. Walking as a social activity
Recruiting a friend for regular walks not only offers external accountability (social support is a great motivator for adherence to exercise), it also means you can reap the manifold benefits of social interaction. Regular walks with a friend might boost your resilience, self-esteem, and ability to cope with problems.6
According to the Black Dog Institute, one in three Australians feel lonely.7 If you’re among them, spending regular time walking with another person might also serve to combat the loneliness and in doing so could help improve your sleep, cardiovascular health, immunity, and cognitive functions11, beyond the already numerous benefits of the walk itself.
You could even work towards a goal with a friend, like walking in a charity or community event of your choosing - which is amazing for your mental health as well!
Walk for a reason in HBF Run for a Reason. What’s stopping you?
WA-based walkers, this one’s for you. Sunday 21 May marks the return of HBF Run for a Reason – and the perfect opportunity for you to set your sights on a walk worth being a part of. The CommBank 4km walk is a flat cruise through the city, with scenic views and entertainment every step of the way.
Hit all the boxes we’ve mentioned with the added bonus of being a part of something doing great things for the community – and raising money for much-needed charities. Plus, it’s just a high-vibes day, full of potential moments to feel fantastic!
If you’re managing a health condition that makes exercise difficult, speak to your doctor about how you could get started.
If time is an issue, you may try to prioritise walking rather than leave it as something you do when there’s time left over. Can you get up a little earlier? Make sure you leave the office for your lunch break? Is there something you can cut from your routine, or do more efficiently to make space?
Advice from an exercise physiologist when it comes to walking
HBF’s Sarah Penter is a certified exercise physiologist and has some wisdom when it comes to walking.
“Walking is one of the most cost effective, low impact ways people can increase their physical activity. Not only is it a great place to start if you are new to exercise but it is also a great way to incorporate more incidental movement into your day, which is great for our physical health and has been shown to help to reduce stress and improve our overall wellbeing. All you need is a pair of shoes!”
Could an exercise physiologist help you with your exercise goals or to manage a health condition? If you’re an HBF member, you can check what you're covered for by logging on to myHBF or calling us on 133 423.
Extras cover to keep you moving
With benefits for physio, remedial massage, dietetics and more, HBF extras can help support your wellbeing.
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This article contains general information only and does not take into account the health, personal situation or needs of any person. In conjunction with your GP or treating health care professional, please consider whether the information is suitable for you and your personal circumstances.