Walking to lose weight has loads of mental and physical health benefits: you get fitter for starters, improving your cardiovascular and respiratory health. Intense walking can gear you up and prepare your body to take on running and other cardio challenges, while getting outdoors in lockdown can be a blessing for your mental health.
When it comes to your mental and physical health, where you walk is almost as important as getting out the house in the first place. A survey of downloaded walking routes in the UK during lockdown found two-thirds of walkers chose to walk near water.
A total of 29 percent of walkers took a stroll by rivers and waterfalls, 20 percent walked around or by lakes or ponds, and 17 percent of all the walks were by the sea.
Walking around bodies of water gets us closer to nature, which is essential for our wellbeing. A Harvard Health (opens in new tab) report looked at a 2019 study, which found "those who did a nature walk had lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, a brain region that is active during rumination — defined as repetitive thoughts that focus on negative emotions."
This improved mood can help your weight loss goals. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (opens in new tab), depression and low mood is strongly correlated with obesity.
Regular nature visits can also suppress the stress hormone, which is known as cortisol. An increased production of cortisol, which occurs when we're stressed, has long been known to increase our body's fat storage, causing us to gain weight. Fortunately, one study (opens in new tab) found just 10 minutes in nature, three times a week, helps reduce the level of cortisol in our bodies.
Vigorous exercise has also been found to increase the production of serotonin in the brain, which is known as the "happy hormone", and dopamine, which is the same chemical released as a reward every time we achieve a goal, eat chocolate, have sex or receive a message on social media.
By getting exercise with nature walks, we're enjoying ourselves more, making it more likely we'll choose to exercise again. If you're struggling with all this staying inside due to COVID-19, grab a pair of our best shoes for walking and hit the great outdoors.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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