Walk faster, stay younger

One way to boost the health benefits to be gained from walking is to quicken your pace. Those who regularly exceed three miles per hour have better brain function, according to recent research. Here’s how to increase your speed.

Two people with a dog, looking out at a view

Any amount of walking boosts our physical and mental health but most of us would benefit from doing a little more each week. The UK Chief Medical Officers’ Physical Activity guidelines recommend that adults should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity (such as brisk walking or cycling) each week.

Quickening our pace will further enhance the health benefits of walking. Research from New Zealand published last year concluded that individuals who walk faster than three miles per hour age more gradually and retain better brain function for longer. It has also been calculated that the Grim Reaper’s preferred walking speed is about 2 miles per hour – and none of us want to get caught before our time! 

How to step it up 

To speed up your walking try taking shorter strides, don`t slouch and keep your arms bent, swinging them front to back as you move to increase momentum. In addition, rambling as a group can help to increase your pace as can walking with a purpose. 

My family have often commented that when I am heading out with a clear objective in mind I always walk faster. I was therefore particularly interested to read a recent study from the Ohio State University demonstrating that walking with a purpose encourages quicker walking. The researchers discovered that if we speed up, we are not only healthier, but we feel better too.

Blurry photo of people walking briskly

Locotherapy & awe walks 

It has been a difficult year and, as the nights draw in, we all need to think of walks that will improve out fitness and raise our spirits. ‘Locotherapy’ is about focusing on the combined physical and psychological benefits of locomotion – the ability to move from one place to another - as well as being in a specific place (location). Also, consciously watching for small wonders in the world around us during an otherwise ordinary walk can amplify the mental health benefits of a stroll, according to an interesting new psychological evaluation of what are termed ‘awe walks.’

Clambering up Roseberry Topping in the autumn sunshine and then being buffeted by cool fresh air flowing in from the North Sea at the top always gives me a good dose of locotherapy and a feeling of awe. Following the medieval pilgrim’s route through the purple heather to the Abbey church at Lastingham accompanied only by the sounds and smells of the moors is always a great prescription.

So, plan a walk with a purpose and treat yourself to some locotherapy. Perhaps head up to a summit in the Lake District or march along the cliff tops wildlife spotting. Try to step up your pace to keep your brain sharp and your body healthy. But also slow down or stop occasionally to taste the air, take in the panorama and feed your soul.  

Dr Nick Summerton is a GP and Ramblers member who sits on Walk magazine’s Ask the Expert panel. 

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