Thursday, December 31, 2015

The benefits of walking

Walking is one of the simplest ways to get out and exercise. It can be done anywhere, costs nothing and strengthens your heart, lowers your blood pressure and increases your bone mass. In fact, some evidence exists that walking is in fact better for your health than running. Recently, the UK's National Health Service started the 10,000 steps challenge in an effort to get people out and moving.

Personally, I've never been much of a walker, but this year we added a puppy to the family and this means that walking has become a regular (albeit unintentional) part of my exercise routine. My wife told me today that I've taken up walking because walking now has a purpose, whereas before our dog I found walking to be somewhat aimless. (After a bit of reflection, I realize that this is probably true.) My wife hypothesizes as well that this view of walking is typical for most men. (Also probably true.)

I compared my walking habits in 2014 to 2015 recently by looking back over my Movescount history. In 2014, I walked (as a form of exercise, not as as a part of my daily motion) a total of 52 km. This year, in December alone, I've walked about the same distance (56 km) and in doing so burned about 4,500 calories. Not bad for an activity that I have to do anyway! And again, that doesn't include my daily walking around at work, or even the little walks I take with our dog before bedtime or after breakfast.

Perhaps one of the best parts about walking is its versatility. Done alone, walking offers a chance to gather thoughts, reflect on the day and plan for the future. Done with a friend or in a group, it is an opportunity for conversation and relationship-building. Walking can be done at any age, from young to old, and as such it is a sustainable form of exercise that you can continue with late into life. And walking can be done in the forest, around town, or even indoors.

Output of the Apple Health app
If you're interested in tracking your walking, there are lots of options available. David and I are both owners of Suunto watches but these are a bit of overkill if walking is your first choice for exercise. David also recently started wearing a FitBit Charge HR--a little less expensive and designed to be worn all the time. But for most people, the Apple Health app which is built into your iPhone is plenty and you already have it for free. As long as you have your iPhone on your person, the Health app is tracking your steps. I've tested the accuracy of the distance calculation (which is doing some sort of step x estimated step length calculation), and I think it generally overestimates my distance walked, but it's the trend not the absolute number that's most important anyway.

Thinking about a New Year's resolution? Consider adding a daily walk to your routine. 

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