Walk your way to health

There's nothing quite as simple as walking to help improve your health. It's a much underrated form of exercise as it is free, helps you become more active, can do wonders for your overall health and can also help you to lose weight.

It's also ideal for people of all ages, and everybody can join in regardless of their fitness levels. Walking on a regular basis has been found to help cut the risk of a number of chronic illnesses, in particular heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, some cancers and breathing conditions, such as asthma.

Sound good? Great, let's get started, then.

Planning your walk

One of the great things about walking is that you don't need to worry about expensive equipment. However, it is important you have a pair of comfortable shoes or trainers that don't cause blisters, and that provide adequate support for your feet.

Your clothing should ideally be loose-fitting, with thin layers preferable. You may decide you want to walk to work, so just swapping your work shoes for a comfortable pair should be the only change you'll need to make.

However, if you're planning on taking longer hikes, you may also want to take some snacks, some water, a spare t-shirt and perhaps a sunhat in a backpack. Another ideal investment for longer walks is some waterproof clothing and perhaps some walking boots, especially if you're planning on tackling any tough terrain.

Your first few walks

As with any new exercise, the best plan is to get started slowly and gradually build up to a more challenging routine. To really feel the benefits from walking, it needs to be a moderate- intensity work-out, so you should be going at a faster pace than just a stroll.

This pace means you'll be going fast enough to raise your heart rate and also to break sweat. You should have enough breath to be able to talk to your walking partner, but not enough to break into song.

Ideally you should be aiming to walk 10,000 steps a day, and as most of us already walk between 3,000 and 4,000 steps daily, it shouldn't be a huge challenge to get up to 10,000.

Alternatively, you should aim for 30 minutes of brisk walking on at least five days a week - or a total of 150 minutes per week.

When you first start up, you may find you can only keep the faster pace up for a few minutes at a time. This isn't a problem. You should certainly make sure you don't overdo it as this could lead to injury, which could set your new regime back weeks or even months.

Walking in 10-minute chunks might be a good way to start, but begin every walk at a slower pace and gradually build up. You should also gradually slow down when you get to the end of your walk, and also finish off with some gentle stretching of the front and backs of your thighs and your calves.

Remember, every step counts, whether you are walking to work, heading out with friends or just walking the dog, so try to make the most of it and enjoy your new routine.

How do I maintain my motivation?

The best way to do this is make your new walking routine a habit. Considering ways you can add more walking into your daily routine will help with this. Some ideas include walking part of your journey to work, walking to the shops, using stairs instead of lifts or escalators, walking your children to school, and regular walks after your evening meal.

If you have a smartphone, there are many reliable apps which help you to keep track of the steps you take and the routes you walk - together with helpful coaching and challenges with other people like you to keep you informed and motivated.

You could also try purchasing a pedometer or activity tracker which will monitor your daily step count and upload the information to a partner app on your smartphone.

Another useful motivation trip is to join a walking group. These will regularly promote exercise for all the family, so you can all get out and enjoy the fresh air while working wonders for your overall health.

Above all, the secret to maintaining the habit is to enjoy it, so plan routes you'll have fun with, get your family and friends involved and go out and get some fresh air. Just make sure you don't forget the comfy shoes.