Now that cooler fall weather is finally here (at least in our area), being active outdoors is more enjoyable. October is a great time to get outdoors and go for a walk! That is the spirit of Walktober, an initiative adopted by health organizations, companies, and communities around the globe.
Walking is a great way to be active to help you control your weight, increase your fitness, and improve your health. The most common form of exercise for most people is walking, and for good reason: walking doesn’t require any special equipment (beyond comfortable shoes) or skills, and you can do it almost anywhere.
You can meet basic physical activity recommendations by walking briskly for 30 minutes most days of the week. Even this amount of walking can lead to a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers as well as improved mental health, cognitive function, and greater feelings of well being.
Walking, like any exercise, has substantial health benefits. These benefits are even greater if you are active outdoors. Being active in a natural environment has been shown to have an impact on mental health including enhanced feelings of energy and diminished fatigue, anxiety, anger, and sadness compared to similar activity conducted indoors. Research shows that exercise outdoors leads to physiological changes in brain blood flow that are associated with psychological benefits.
When you go for a walk outdoors you may get a better workout. This is mostly due to the fact that you will likely walk faster outdoors, but other factors like uneven ground and hills add to your effort. The good news is that even though you may exercise at a higher intensity outside, you may feel that your effort is lower than for the same exercise indoors. This is partly because the pleasant visual stimuli outdoors distracts you from sensations of effort during exercise. And much of the psychological benefit of outdoor exercise occurs in the first five minutes, so even short bouts of activity are meaningful.
If you are new to walking for exercise, you can start with 10–15 minute sessions and work up to 30 (or more!) minutes at a time. This can be as simple as going for a short walk outside when you have a break at work or taking your dog for a walk around the neighborhood. It’s also a good idea to walk with a friend or in a group, which can provide motivation and accountability. And, of course, it is a great way to spend time together.
If you have been exercising indoors, this is a perfect time to take your activity outdoors. Going for a hike in the woods or a long walk around town can build your endurance, especially if you encounter hills along the way. Running outdoors can break the monotony of the treadmill or other indoor exercise equipment. This might not replace your workouts at the gym, but it can certainly add to your activity.
The best part is that walking outdoors is something the whole family can do. Beyond the health benefits for everyone in your family, it sets an excellent example for your kids (and grand kids). Many experts agree that increasing opportunities for outdoor play and exercise is important for helping children grow up healthy and happy.
Every little bit of activity you do outdoors will have both physical and psychological benefits to help you become and feel healthier. So, get outside and get active to celebrate Walktober!