Walking - the simplest health fix

Last updated 14:45 12/09/2011

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It might not be as sexy as surfing, as cool as cycling or as chic as sailing but walking has plenty of rewards.

Not only is it cheap and relaxing but it doubles as a great mode of transport.

From short trips to the shops to long rambles across the countryside, there is a form of walking that caters to most abilities and interests.

In recent years, one American filmmaker even recorded his journey along the 3500-kilometre Appalachian Trail, condensing his six-month adventure into a five-minute video.

But not everyone need go to such extremes. In fact, the great appeal of walking is its ease and accessibility, says a professor from the school of public health at the University of Sydney, Adrian Bauman.

''All you need is two legs - you don't need expensive equipment or facilities,'' he says.

Walking offers the same general benefits as other forms of physical activity: improving mood and brain function, blood pressure and cardiovascular health while also warding off obesity, diabetes and some cancers.

What makes it particularly beneficial, however, is its low risk of injury and how easy it is to fit into our daily routine.

Walking the dog or walking to work, for example, are easy options that don't require a massive change in routine, Bauman says.

But for general health, it's not enough to dawdle around the block. It's best to walk continuously for at least half an hour, at a moderate pace. To lose weight you'll need to walk for an hour or more.

''The best way to increase activity is to habituate walking,'' he says. ''It's about building activity into your day and walking happens to be the activity most of us can do.''

But it can still prove difficult to stay motivated, especially for those short on time or energy.

''[Walking is] beguilingly simple and yet it's a great challenge,'' Bauman says.

''It's not just understanding that walking's good for you, it's feeling it and doing it. Doing it will help reinforce it and will help change your mindset. Most inactive people will enjoy walking once they start it, especially if they can schedule it in and find someone to do it with.''

Preparation and organisation help maintain the habit, 25-year-old Fabian di Marco says.

Having lost 30 kilogrammes while at university, the digital media manager (and now online fitness entrepreneur) had to find a way to fit exercise in to his work routine.

For the past four years he has walked from Sydney suburb Erskineville to the central city every day. He believes good preparation starts with how you are dressed.

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''Ditch the one-shoulder strap for a backpack - and take off your leather [shoes] and put on lightweight, comfortable joggers,'' he says. ''In light rain you can guarantee you'll get them dirty.''

Di Marco also says you should prepare for rainy days: ''If there's any prospect of rain, then remember your umbrella - you don't want to be halfway to work when it starts pouring,'' he says.

With warmer months upon us, heat and sweat become an issue, too. ''If you don't have a shower at work then just bring a towel to dry up, or in summer try to leave home a bit earlier to avoid the glaring heat.''

There are things you can do to make the walk more enjoyable, too, such as listening to music. ''It makes time go quicker ... but you have to be mindful of traffic,'' di Marco says.

If you can't walk all the way to work, di Marco suggests hopping off the train or bus a few stops early, then walking the rest of the way.

You can also reserve your walk for a bit of indulgent ''me time'', he says.

''It gives you time to clear your mind,'' he says. ''Your endorphins are flowing, so by the time you get to your destination you feel good.''

The chief executive of the Cancer Council NSW, Andrew Penman, says walking is an excellent option if for no other reason than it's a great way of getting around town.

''It's amazing what you find out about the neighbourhood,'' he says.

- Sydney Morning Herald


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