Seven surprising walking facts

Walking Works, the report we produced with Macmillan Cancer Support, revealed the wonders of walking and its benefits to our health, the economy and the environment. We’ve taken a look at some of its more extraordinary findings about the ways walking can change not only our own lives but also the world around us.

Brain

It could improve your memory

Studies on the brains of older people have shown that keeping physically active can improve cognitive function, memory, attention and processing speed, and reduce the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

You’ll sleep more soundly

In 2004, a US review of scientific studies into the effects of physical activity on sleep concluded that there was moderate evidence that exercise (such as walking) improves sleep quality, and substantial evidence that it reduces anxiety – which should increase your chances of nodding off.

It can increase the value of your home

Areas with higher walking levels have been shown to have higher property prices. One study found the flat prices in London were significantly higher in areas with better quality pedestrian environments, and areas that made similar environmental improvements experienced 12% growth in flat prices.

It will save you money

It’s so obvious that it often gets overlooked, but walking is free! You don’t need an expensive gym membership or any special equipment to take part, and you’ll save heaps every year on petrol and transport fares by making those shorter journeys on foot.

Saving the environment

You’ll be helping save the planet

By leaving the car at home you’re helping to reduce air and noise pollution, avoid traffic jams and fight climate change. Together with cycling, walking is one of the most sustainable means of transport, and schemes that encourage walking and cycling deliver benefit-to-cost ratios of 20 to 1, compared to rail and road schemes that are typically around 3 to 1.

You’ll stay independent for longer

Physically active older people are up to 68% less likely to fracture a hip, 30–50% less likely to develop other functional limitations, and far less prone to falls because of the stronger bones and better motor co-ordination you’ll have developed as a result. And if you are active when older, you’re 38% less likely to suffer cognitive decline and dementia, too.

It could reduce social inequality

Women, the elderly, people on low incomes and certain ethnic minorities are more likely to be physically inactive and die prematurely, which the Government calculates as a loss of between 1.3 and 2.5 million years of extra life each year in England alone. But walking – described by leading scientists as ‘the nearest activity to perfect exercise’ – is accessible to everyone and could help eliminate this huge social disparity.

Find out about 13 more astonishing facts in our 20 reasons why walking can change your life and the world feature in Walk magazine.