Over the past year, there has been some debate in mainstream media about the benefits of brisk walking. The UK government is examining the benefits of green prescriptions in a pilot project to determine if brisk walking improves your health and fitness.
Having engaged in brisk walking for years, I have first-hand experience of the health and fitness benefits. There is also a huge body of research to back this up which we have documented consistently on the sweatcoin blog.
Brisk walking is essentially an aerobic exercise. It’s well established the aerobic exercises are beneficial to your health and fitness. It’s quite surprising that doctors have only recently prescribed walking as a form of therapy.
Like any other aerobic exercise, brisk walking stimulates the heart and lungs. Giving your vital organs a workout is just as important as strengthening your bones and muscles.
Neuroscientists acknowledge the brain is like a muscle. The more exercises you give it the healthier your mental health is. The same applies to your vital organs.
The NHS points out:
“Sometimes overlooked as a form of exercise, walking briskly can help you build stamina, burn excess calories and make your heart healthier.”NHS
How does brisk walking improve your health and fitness?
When you perform a moderate exercise, you breathe more deeply. Taking in more air gets more oxygen to your brain which enhances brain function.
Inhaling more oxygen into the blood cells also helps to boost your immune system. Oxygen is needed for the creation of white blood cells which play a vitally important role in cleaning out toxins, bacteria and viruses.
Brisk walking improves your health and fitness in numerous ways. Studies show moderate-intensity exercises lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases and blood clots.
The motion and muscles that are activated during a brisk walking session stimulate the venous pump from your feet to your legs back to the heart.
For people with a sedentary lifestyle, the circulatory blood pumping system is highly important. It reduces the load on the heart. It’s come as no surprise that sitting for hours on end every day is a contributor to killer diseases.
Sitting has been dubbed the ‘new smoking’. Sitting for long periods weakens the cardiovascular system.
Health experts recommend the optimum walking distance is 7,500 steps a day to stay healthy. Most Britons only walk 4,500 steps. Regular brisk walking will help. Even a 20-minute power walk at lunchtime will help clock up the step count.
Walking in the park is a green prescription
Mental health statistics reveal that one in four people experience mental health at some point in their life. 1 in 6 suffer anxiety or depression and 1 in 15 people attempt suicide.
It took a global pandemic for the UK government to recognise mental health issues are becoming a nationwide pandemic.
Environment Secretary George Eustice announced a £4 million investment for a cross-government project which includes “green social prescriptions” to address the growing problem of mental health in the UK.
The pilot scheme started in Autumn 2020 and is scheduled to run for two years. Green prescriptions replace pharmaceutical treatments with cycling, exercising outdoors, planting trees, gardening and walking in nature.
It’s quite surprising that this project is only being considered in recent times. Other cultures have prescribed nature as a therapy for centuries. In Japan, for example, Shinrin-Yoku, literally translated as ‘forest bathing’ is a common pastime.
Countless scientific papers published in the last 30 years examine how nature influences physical and mental health. The results have been overwhelmingly positive.
One particular study conducted by the National Institute for Health Research in Leicester, even found that fitness walking prolongs your lifespan. People that walk faster live, on average, 15 years longer than slow walkers.
How fast should you walk to stay fit and healthy?
For brisk walking to improve health and fitness, you will need to maintain a reasonable pace. The speed you walk at will differ between individuals.
Age, current health conditions, mobility and fitness will determine the pace you walk at. The goal is to achieve a moderate intensity workout that leaves you deeper than you would walk at your regular pace.
For the general population, brisk walking is considered to be between 3-4.5mph. Or 13 to 20 minutes a mile. If you maintain this pace, you can consider your session as a good workout.
However, when you are first starting, listen to your body and don’t push yourself beyond your limits. Your body needs to become accustomed to fitness walking.
To help build your stamina and burn more calories, add hills to your route. Working against gravity means you use more energy and make your lungs and heart work harder. If you have a heart condition seek advice from your GP.
Walking on softer surfaces should as sand and mud also force you to use more energy. Without a hard surface providing you with a supporting platform, your muscles have to work harder to drive you forward.
Monitoring brisk walking zones
To ensure brisk walking improves your health and fitness, monitor distance and pace using a fitness tracker. A pedometer or the sweatcoin app will suffice.
There are also physical symptoms you can monitor to determine which “zone” you’re in. Experts rate “zones” in three classes:
Healthy Heart Zone
The healthy heart zone involves walking at a pace you are comfortable with. It is the lower end of the moderate-intensity training scale but should increase your heart rate by 50-60%.
The fitness zone is the optimum pace for brisk walking to improve your health and fitness. Your heart rate will be up by 64%-76% – testable by only being able to speak in short breathes.
If you’re seriously wanting to step up your brisk walking program, the aerobic zone involves long spells of vigorous intensity and will bump your heart rate up by 77% to 93%.
Download the Sweatcoin app
If you adopt brisk walking to improve your health and fitness, download the sweatcoin app. Each step is recorded by the built-in pedometer and converted into sweatcoins which can be used to purchase merchandise from over 300 brands.