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Jun 3, 2011

Walk your way to health

Walking 10,000 steps a day – about 8km – can help to keep your heart healthy and reduce your body fat.

What's more, it needn't be as hard as it sounds. Most of us walk around 4,500 steps a day as part of our normal routine. To see how easily you could fit another 3,000 steps into your day, watch our video "Walking with Sir Muir Gray" at the bottom of the page. Sir Muir is the NHS chief knowledge officer.
Walking is a great, low-impact way to get more activity into your life, but before you start any new exercise routine check with your GP to make sure it's suitable and safe for you, particularly if you have a medical condition.
If you have more questions, read on.
Walking can't really get you fit, can it? 
Yes it can. Walking is good for your heart and lungs and improving cardiovascular fitness. Most of the work is done by the muscles of the lower body, and it's a weight-bearing activity so can help improve bone density. At the same time, it's low impact, so it won’t strain your joints.
Surely you have to go to the gym to do a proper workout?
Doing a thorough workout at the gym is excellent and you can get good advice from the instructors about the best exercise for you. But ask yourself these two questions: do you actually go to the gym? And how often?

Walking can be fitted into your daily routine. It's free, saves on petrol or bus fares and is better for the planet. Half of all journeys in the UK are shorter than two miles: think about what the regular journeys you take that you'd be able to walk. 
I'd have to walk really fast to burn calories.
Not true. It's the distance covered that matters, not the time. However, if you walk faster you will burn calories at a faster rate.
Your size, stride and speed will affect how many calories your burn in 10,000 steps. For a 70kg (11st) woman walking at a fairly brisk pace of 3.5 miles an hour, it would take around 90 minutes, and burn more than 400 calories.
Isn't walking too easy if I want to get fit?
It depends how fit you want to get. If you want to get fit for sport then yes, you do need to work hard, and sport or working out in the gym are popular ways of keeping fit. But you can get major health benefits from relatively mild exercise, as long as you do enough and do it regularly.
Latest scientific evidence shows that walking one mile in 15 minutes burns about the same number of calories as running a mile in eight and a half minutes. And the calories you can lose soon add up if you walk an extra hour a day. Of course, you have to watch your diet too; walking for 15 minutes isn't a licence to eat that extra jam doughnut.
Is it really going to make any difference to how I look or feel? 
Yes. Walking will also increase your muscle tone, boost metabolism, ease stress, raise energy levels and improve sleep, which all together can also help you lose weight.
But walking isn't going to prevent illness.
Not true. Regular walking can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer, osteoporosis and arthritis. It can help you to deal with anxiety and stress, and may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. New research from studies in Britain shows that anyone can turn back the clock three years by getting some exercise, such as taking the stairs instead of the lift.
But I hate exercise.
Walking doesn't need to feel like exercise. It can just be part of your daily routine. You could stop driving to the local shop and walk there instead. If you use the bus or tube, get off one stop early and walk. Or take a walk in your lunch hour: half an hour's walk after a meal cuts the amount of fat your body stores by using it to fuel your exercise. And throw away the remote control – your couch potato days are over.
I'm still not convinced.
The beauty of walking is you can do it any time, anywhere. You don't need any equipment and you already know how to do it. Best of all, it's free.
How can I make sure I am doing enough? A pedometer is a great way to measure your walking steps. They're the size of a pager, cost around £10 from large chemists and fit easily into your daily routine.
  • Only three out of 10 people do enough exercise but eight out of 10 think they do.
  • 37% of coronary heart disease deaths are related to inactivity, compared to 19% related to smoking.

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