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Ten health benefits of walking in winter

Jane Murphy / 26 November 2015 ( 22 November 2019 )

It may be cold outside but that's no excuse to stay indoors. Recent studies have uncovered plenty of health benefits to go for a winter walk.

Couple going on a winter walk
Boost your mood as well as your fitness with a winter walk.

1. It will boost your brain

The fitter your legs, the fitter your mind. That's according to a brand new UK study, which found that increased levels of walking, targeted to improve long-term leg power, may have a positive impact on mental ageing. 

Scientists at King's College London studied 324 healthy female twins over a decade. In general, the twin who had stronger legs at the start of the study had better sustained her powers of cognition and experienced fewer age-related brain changes at the end of the 10-year period.

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2. It's better for you than the gym

Well, that's the conclusion of researchers from the London School of Economics, who claim regular brisk walking is the best exercise for maintaining a healthy weight. 

How exercise helps your brain

Having analysed data from the annual Health Survey for England, researchers found that adults who regularly walk briskly for more than 30 minutes tend to have a lower body mass index and smaller waist than those who take part in sports or exercise at the gym. The results were particularly pronounced in the over-50s. 

Weight loss tips to help you stay on track

3. You'll lower risk of heart disease and osteoporosis

Caught a glimpse of winter sun? Get outside for a walk and you'll boost your levels of vitamin D. Obtained primarily through sun exposure, vitamin D is vital for maintaining a healthy heart and bones. 

People with the lowest blood levels of the vitamin are twice as likely to die prematurely as those with the highest, according to a recent US study.

The best ways to protect your bones

4. It can speed up cancer recovery

Walking one mile each day at a moderate pace could reduce breast cancer patients' risk of dying from the disease by 40 per cent, while those with prostate cancer could reduce risk of death by almost a third, says research for Macmillan Cancer Support and the Ramblers. What's more, that daily walk can also reduce the impact of some of the side effects of treatment.

Two minutes an hour to better health

5. You'll live longer

A brisk 20-minute walk each day could be all you need to significantly reduce your chances of early death, according to a study of 334,000 European adults. 

Researchers at the University of Cambridge found that twice as many deaths may be attributable to lack of exercise, compared with the number of deaths caused by obesity. But just a modest increase in physical activity – walking instead of driving to the shops, for example – could be enough to boost your health and longevity.

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6. It's just as good as running

Need more convincing that you don't need to train for a marathon in order to see a significant boost to your health? A long, brisk walk is as good as a run when it comes to lowering risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, say US researchers. The reason? It's the total energy used, rather than the intensity of the workout, that counts.

Which exercise is better for you? Read our comparison of various activities

7. It could help beat depression

Getting out and about on foot is an effective intervention for depression and has a mood-lifting effect similar to more strenuous forms of exercise, according to researchers at the University of Stirling. 

Country walks in particular have been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and raise self-esteem, says a report from mental health charity, Mind.

10 ways to lift your mood

8. It's good for your joints

If you suffer from joint problems, regular exercise is one of the most important things you can do – as much as the condition will allow, obviously. Walking is ideal because it's low-impact but helps keep your weight in check and prevents stiffness and swelling. 

One recent US study found that walking 6,000 steps per day – that's approximately three miles – may protect people with, or at risk of, osteoarthritis of the knee from developing mobility issues, such as difficulty climbing stairs.

10 ways to take care of your joints

9. You'll make new friends

Particularly if you take Rover with you. In a Canadian study of 884 adults over the age of 50, those who took their dog for a walk at least four times a week were more likely to report feeling a strong sense of community. Don't have a dog? You can still make new friends by joining a local walking group. Find one near you at Ramblers.

How to make new friends

10. You'll fare even better if you pick up the pace

Walking a little quicker – or further – can increase the heart-boosting benefits of your stroll, according to a study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation

'If you're comfortable with your usual physical activity, don't slow down as you get older: try to walk an extra block or walk at a faster pace,' says the study's lead author Luisa Soares-Miranda. 

'If you're not physically active, it's never too late to start.' So what are you waiting for?

How to get more health benefits from your walk

Ask Dr Mark Porter - how many calories does power walking burn? 

I always pile on the pounds over Christmas but this year I am going to be more sensible and am hoping to counteract some of the excess by power walking. How many calories can I expect to burn if I walk for 30 minutes?

Surveys suggest that the average adult puts on between 1-2kg (2-4lb) over Christmas. Hardly surprising given the amount of festive fare we consume and how much physical activity is needed to balance the books. The number of calories you burn will depend on your build and metabolism but I would be surprised if it’s any more than 250 during your half-hour power walk (roughly 100 calories per mile), meaning that it won’t even compensate for one decent mince pie (at least 300). A generous glass of sherry requires a two-mile walk and a couple of pints of real ale, a 45-minute jog. A good handful of chocolate Brazil nuts would fuel a two-hour swim, while a 60-minute stroll burns up the equivalent of just two Quality Street (well, the big purple ones I like anyway).

My advice? The best way to control weight is to eat less. Every bit of exercise helps, so do your power walk but don’t worry too much. Christmas comes but once a year and it’s not the time to be calorie counting. At least, that’s what I’m going to tell myself…

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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