Health benefits

‘If a medication existed which had a similar effect to physical activity [like walking], it would be regarded as a “wonder drug” or a “miracle cure”’ (England’s Chief Medical Officer 2010).

'Walking is the nearest activity to perfect exercise' (Morris and Hardman 1997).

Walking and physical activity

The UK Chief Medical Officers recommend adults do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate physical activity – one way of achieving this would be walk 30 minutes on five days a week. The recommendation for children is at least 60 minutes every day and preferably more. Only around a third of people in Britain achieve the minimum recommended levels.

Inactivity is a key factor in the dramatic growth of obesity. 61% of English adults and 30% of children are overweight or obese.

All walking is beneficial, but for the greatest benefits to heart, lungs and blood pressure, brisk is best. You should be breathing a little faster, feeling a little warmer and can feel your heart beating a little faster, but you still feel comfortable and are able to talk.

Physical health

Regular brisk walking will

  • Improve performance of the heart, lungs and circulation
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and strokes – inactive and unfit people have double the risk of dying from CHD

Walking regularly at any speed will

  • Help manage weight.
  • Reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • Reduce the risk of certain cancers such colon, breast and lung cancer
  • Improve flexibility and strength of joints, muscles and bones, and reduce the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Increase “good” cholesterol
  • Boost the immune system
  • Improve mood, reduce anxiety, aid sleep and improve self-image

Managing and recovering from health problems

Walking can help you manage and recover from certain long term conditions (as part of a care plan supervised by your doctor). Many patients recovering from heart problems find walking is a good way to recover their strength gently and gradually. Walking can help manage the side effects of cancer treatment and even prevent certain cancers recurring.

Mental health and well being

Walking improves well being and helps fight stress and depression

  • Walking, like other physical activities, releases endorphins which improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety
  • Feeling fitter and controlling weight helps improve your body image and confidence
  • Active people have a reduced risk of suffering clinical depression
  • Walking in a group is a sociable activity that can help improve mental health and overcome feelings of isolation
  • Spending time in the outdoors and in contact with the natural environment – for example by walking in parks, woodland and green spaces – can have a positive effect on mental health

Walking and everyday life

For most people, walking is the easiest way to meet physical activity recommendations. Walking is:

  • Free and requires no special equipment, training or gym or club memberships.
  • Available to almost everyone
  • Safe and low-impact, with a low risk of injuries and accidents.
  • Easy to start slowly and build up gradually
It’s also one of the easiest activities to fit into your everyday life:
  • You can walk from your doorstep at a time that suits you
  • You can use walking for everyday short journeys
  • You don’t need to concentrate on the walking itself, leaving you free to enjoy your surroundings, chat to friends and family or just relax.
  • You can enjoy a variety of surroundings as you walk in different places and different seasons

Brisk walking has the greatest potential for increasing the overall activity levels of a sedentary population…[and] is most likely to be adopted by a range of ages, socioeconomic and ethnic groups” (Hillsdon and Thorogood 1996).

For a comprehensive summary of the benefits of walking, complete with full references, download our Benefits of Walking factsheet.