Why walking can be a game-changer for your body

by Juliette Wills
Photo by Phil Dolby / CC

Photo by Phil Dolby / CC

It's no surprise that walking is good for you if you have arthritis, but did you know in just how many ways?

“Why would I want to walk when I’m in pain?” we hear you say. Well, because while taking a walk might feel like the last thing on earth you want to do when your joints are flaring, trust us – it’s a game-changer.

Walking has so many health benefits, and is particularly helpful for people with arthritis.  And let’s face it, walking is one of the few things we’re allowed to do in these strange times.

OK, so it takes a bit of effort to get started if you’re more inclined to drive or take a bus everywhere due to reduced mobility, but it’s really worth incorporating a walk into your daily routine. It can be easy to turn down a walk if it’s cold or wet but we don’t want you to make any excuses.

Walking is free, it improves joint and emotional health and you can do it anywhere – although bear in mind that a park in daylight is a better bet than, say, a deserted industrial estate late at night, but you guessed that already, right? Let’s get started on why you should walk:

  1. Walking strengthens muscles – Not only does a walk tone your legs and abdominal muscles, it can also tone your arms if you pump them as you walk (depending on your pain levels, of course). If most of your pain is in your spine, lower back and hips, walking is the perfect antidote – the muscles in your lower back will strengthen and you will absolutely see a reduction in back pain. The same goes for any kind of pain, though – movement and mobility is essential.
  2. Walking strengthens bones – Walking is weight-bearing, so helps strengthen the quality of bone to help reduce the risks of bone thinning (osteoporosis), which can be a potential side effect of steroid tablets. Your doctor can advise further on this.
  3. Walking improves your mood – Walking releases natural pain-killing endorphins. You know the feeling you get when you watch a YouTube video of a cat snoozing next to a dog and a chick? That’s your endorphins rushing around your system. Some of us get the same feeling from seeing a photo of Ryan Gosling with his shirt off or laughing at a friend falling over; whatever floats your boat. Either way, those ‘happy’ rushes help beat mood swings, depression and general feelings of *sad face*. It’s true. A little walk will turn that frown upside down in no time.

Top Tips

Take A Pet With You (but do ask first!)

If you don’t have a dog of your own, see if a neighbour has a small breed you can borrow. I used to take my neighbour’s Norfolk Terrier out for a little walk around the green opposite my house. I bought an extendable lead so he could run off without me having to run after him (walking I can do, running I can’t) and seeing his little face all happy in turn made me happy.

He was small enough that he didn’t pull on the lead (a must if you have swollen joints) and we’d have a little rest on the bench half way around. Even when I was in terrible pain with Ankylosing Spondylitis – which, frankly, was most days – I knew once I was outside with him I’d feel better, and I always did, especially when the sun was shining. Check out www.borrowmydoggy.com for inspiration.

Wear The Right Shoes

Make sure you have good footwear, and if that means keeping a pair of shoes at work or Uni which you can change into after a walk, do it. Try FitFlop boots, sandals or trainers (available on Amazon) as they have this amazing cushioned sole – I live in their furry boots! Granted, they’re not cheap but they last forever (four years and counting on my pair) and they’d make a great birthday or Christmas present if you’re a bit stumped for cash. You might also find secondhand pairs on ebay.co.uk

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Start Slow

There’s no need to go crazy – we’re not talking 10-mile hikes (unless you really want to). What’s important is to find your own pace and slowly work up to a little more often or a little further in your own time. You could try getting off the bus one stop earlier than usual and walking the rest of the way to Uni or work, or do it the other way around and walk a little further as you leave the house.

Go Early

Walking first thing is a better bet than doing it later, if your body is feeling warmed up enough; we all know that as the day wears on, we feel more and more tired, plus it’s a good way to invigorate your mind as well as your body by kicking off your day a dose of fresh air in those lungs and birdsong in your ears, not to mention a nice dose of Vitamin D for your bones if the sun is shining.

If you can plan a route with a bench along the way, you know you can always rest for a few minutes if you need to. Nobody’s suggesting you get up at the crack of dawn, but you could try getting up 10 minutes earlier just to give yourself time to fit in a walk every day. We know how hard it is when everything hurts, but it will get better and keeping mobile really is the best thing you can do if you’re in pain.

If you enjoyed this article, check out Walking With Arthritis: Katherine’s Story

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