When it comes to exercise, walking rarely makes it into the spotlight. In a fitness landscape dominated by high-intensity workouts, gym memberships, and adrenaline-fueled sports, the simple act of walking is often overlooked. However, walking is not only the most basic form of exercise but also one of the most beneficial, especially in a country like South Africa where natural beauty abounds and opportunities for walking are plentiful.
A Natural Start to Physical Activity
Walking is an incredibly accessible form of exercise, requiring nothing more than a comfortable pair of shoes. For those who find it difficult to maintain a regular workout routine or are just starting their fitness journey, walking provides an excellent entry point.
What About Terrain?
South Africa offers a diverse range of terrains suitable for walking, from the sandy beaches of Durban to the mountainous trails in the Western Cape. This diversity not only makes walking an enjoyable experience but can also add an extra layer of physical challenge if you choose more difficult paths.
One of the most significant benefits of walking is its positive impact on cardiovascular health. Regular walking has been shown to lower levels of LDL (bad cholesterol) and raise HDL (good cholesterol), reducing the risk of heart disease.
Is Speed Important?
While walking at a faster pace can offer more cardiovascular benefits, even a moderate pace can be beneficial for heart health. The key is to make walking a regular part of your routine.
Walking can also be a useful tool for managing weight. A brisk 30-minute walk can burn approximately 150 to 200 calories, depending on your weight and pace.
How Does Walking Compare to Running?
While running does burn more calories in a shorter amount of time, walking is less strenuous on the joints, making it a more sustainable option for long-term weight management for many people.
There is increasing evidence that walking can improve mental health. The act of walking, particularly in natural settings, can reduce stress, improve mood, and even enhance creativity.
Why Natural Settings?
Walking in nature can provide what is often referred to as ‘green therapy.’ The calming effect of natural settings is thought to enhance the psychological benefits of physical activity.
Walking offers an excellent opportunity for social interaction, whether you’re strolling with family, friends, or even part of a walking club. Social engagement while walking not only makes the experience more enjoyable but can also contribute to mental well-being.
Are Walking Groups Common in South Africa?
In many South African communities, walking groups have emerged as popular social gatherings, catering to various age groups and fitness levels. These groups often explore different trails, making the activity both socially and physically rewarding.
While walking has numerous benefits, it’s essential to consider safety, especially when walking in isolated or unfamiliar areas. Always inform someone of your planned route, carry a phone, and if possible, walk in groups.
Urban Walking: Yea or Nay?
Walking in urban settings can still offer benefits, though caution should be exercised due to traffic and other safety considerations. Many South African cities have designated walking paths that offer a safer environment.
Flexibility and Adaptability
One of the strongest points in favor of walking is its flexibility. It can be as challenging or as easy as you want it to be. Whether it’s a short stroll around the block, a moderate hike up a hill, or an extended walk on a beach, walking can be adapted to fit into any lifestyle and fitness level.
Walking: A Step in the Right Direction
Walking might not have the glamour associated with other forms of exercise, but its benefits are undeniable. It’s an activity that suits all ages, is gentle on the body, and is easily incorporated into daily life. In South Africa, where the weather is often mild and the landscapes are inviting, walking becomes not just an exercise but an experience — a way to connect with the country’s beauty while improving your health. Given these benefits, it’s worth considering why walking remains South Africa’s most underrated exercise and perhaps taking steps to make it a part of your life.