Walking is the most popular sport and recreation activity among New Zealand adults. Approximately two out of three adults aged 16 years and over walked for sport and recreation in 2007/08 (SPARC 2007/08 Active NZ Survey).
Walking can contribute towards the adult recommendation of at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on five or more days per week, and, importantly, reduces the time you spend sitting down. Guidelines on physical activity for all ages can be found at Physical activity.
Benefits of walking
Walking is ideal for people of all ages and fitness levels, even those who have been inactive. It can be as easy or as hard as you want it to be – but a brisk pace for 10 minutes or more produces more benefits.
Walking offers multiple health benefits and is relatively easy on the muscles and joints – it also carries a low risk of injury.
Regular walking can help to reduce the risk of certain health-related conditions, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers, and improves your:
- heart rate and circulation
- muscle strength (which is essential for doing everyday activities)
- bone strength, and decreases your risk of osteoporosis (which causes brittle bones)
- balance, which can help to reduce the risk and severity of falls
- energy expenditure, which burns kilojoules and helps you lose or maintain a healthy weight
- overall health and wellbeing
- stress levels.
A Green Prescription is a health practitioner’s written advice to an adult patient. Green prescriptions encourage and support the person to help manage certain health conditions, such as weight problems, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, through physical activity and counselling.
In addition to Green Prescriptions, the Green Prescription Active Families programme aims to increase physical activity for children, young people and their families.
Walking is a great activity when it is done alone, but can be even better when done in groups. If you like to socialise, walk with friends. If you don’t have someone to walk with, join a local walking group.
A step-by-step approach to walking
- Make it a habit by choosing a time that suits you – then you are more likely to stick to it.
- Start slowly and increase the length and intensity of your walks as you feel more comfortable.
- Be flexible. If you miss a walk, don’t worry – just walk again when you can.
- Be safe. Be Sun Smart, wear appropriate clothing and walk in safe, well lit areas.
- Avoid boredom by changing your routine every now and then. Try walking tracks, parks and hills.
- Breathe deeply and rhythmically. Try breathing in for four paces and out for four.
- Using a calendar or diary to track your progress may help you stay motivated.
- Walking with friends, family, partner or a dog may help you stay focused on walking.
- Be patient. It may take up to six weeks to feel the benefits of regular walking.
If you have any concerns about walking, your local health practitioner will be able to support your walking routine.
Walking is a great way to fit physical activity into a busy day and can be easily added to your normal routine. Some examples include:
- walking to the shops instead of using the car
- getting off the bus a stop earlier than normal
- joining a walking school bus
- taking the stairs instead of the lift
- walking the dog before or after work.
Walk at your own pace, especially at the beginning. All you need is a supportive pair of shoes.
Make walking a habit by establishing an enjoyable routine – it will only become a habit if it is fun and suits your lifestyle – for instance, if you are a morning person, try walking before breakfast instead of after dinner.
Exploring your local area
New Zealand is full of great places to walk, including:
- inner city walks
- local bush walks
- nature walks
- harbour front walks
- walks through various local and regional parks.
Take time to explore as many walks as you can in your local area, while recognising and respecting the cultural importance of sacred land to Māori. Tangata whenua have a special connection with the land and place cultural significance on roto (lakes), awa (rivers) and maunga (mountains), which all have mana (spiritual status).
Early ancestors of te iwi Māori walked the length and breadth of the country naming mountains, hills, rivers, lakes, creeks and valleys. All names having significant meaning for Māori – they tell a story, record history and leave an indelible imprint on the land and its surroundings.
Picking up the pace
Brisk walking is good for a healthy heart and lungs – it offers all the benefits of other forms of aerobic activity, but with a lower risk of injury. It is an extremely effective workout for the heart and rivals running as a kilojoule burner.
When you increase your speed, technique becomes more important – the correct arm swing, stride, breathing and posture will make it easier to walk quickly. If you are ready to break out of a stroll, you may like to take some technique classes. Find out about classes at your regional sports trust.
If you are feeling more adventurous you can build up to more rigorous walks through regional and national parks, and on to iconic tramps like the Queen Charlotte Track, Abel Tasman Coast Track, Lake Waikaremoana track, Tongariro Northern Circuit and Milford Track.
The more rigorous walks and tramps will require more planning and preparation, as well as specialist equipment to ensure your safety. When planning a tramp, never underestimate the conditions, and stay within your limits.
Nordic walking (walking with specially designed poles) started in Scandinavia as a training plan for cross-country skiers during the summer months. The poles mean Nordic walking uses more muscles than regular walking, so you burn more kilojoules per hour (approximately 1675 compared with 1172).
Nordic walking may be beneficial for older people and people with certain health conditions, such as Parkinson’s, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease and obesity.
The Kiwi way
Enjoyment of the outdoors is part of the New Zealand tradition and there are many places where access is easy for people looking for opportunities to explore.
The New Zealand Walking Access Commission provides useful resources for people who want to access the outdoors responsibly, including the Both Sides of the Fence education website for school students and teachers, and the Outdoor Access Code.
The Commission also manages the free Walking Access Mapping System – an online national mapping system displaying information about land that is publicly accessible on foot. The mapping system also shows tracks and other information that is useful when deciding where to go walking, tramping or fishing.