national walking weekMany of us associate exercise with an intense workout. Perhaps it is a few sweat-soaked hours using a variety of contraptions in the gym or those punishing early morning group sessions designed to take your body to the brink of breaking.

All of these methods do indeed provide an excellent workout should you be at the correct level of fitness to carry them out, but there's also a lot to be said for more gentle exercise. Walking in particular is a fantastic form of exercise, and one that health professionals believe more people should consider when they decide to get fitter and healthier.

May is National Walking Month, so there's never been a better time to buy a supportive pair of walking shoes and get out in the fresh air. The goal of National Walking Month is to encourage as many people as possible to take a brisk 20 minute walk every day in the fresh air.

Regular walking has been proven to help manage serious conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. It has also been found can strengthen bones and muscles, improve your balance and coordination, and support cardiovascular function.

Research has also found walking's benefits to extend beyond the physical. The chemicals released by the brain during exercise have been found to help in the treatment of addictions and tackling of mental health issues. In particular, the sense of euphoria achieved through the release of endorphins boosts mood and contributes towards overall wellbeing.

As a form of expercise, brisk walks are both good for burning calories and weight management. In contrast to the high impact nature of running, walking puts the musculoskeletal system under less pressure and so is particularly suited to those wishing to exercise as they age.

So, how do you start walking and not just strolling? Well, here are a few tips:

  • Choose your route carefully – Walking is meant to be a stress-free, enjoyable activity, so find a route that isn't too treacherous. Cracked pavements and uneven surfaces should be avoided if possible.
  • Start with a warm up – As with all forms of exercise, you should look to perform some warm up exercises before starting. Walking slowly for five to 10 minutes is a good way to prepare your muscles and ready yourself for a faster pace.
  • Set your own pace Don't worry if you find that you're unable to keep speed up when starting out. Walking is all about finding a pace that suits you and gently increasing it when you can. You can even break up your daily steps into more manageable chunks of five or ten minutes at a time.
  • End with a cool down – Towards the final five minutes of your walk you should gradually slow your pace. This will help your muscles to cool down again, which is vital to keeping healthy and injury-free when exercising regularly.
  • And stretch – To lessen the effects of putting your muscles under stress and strain, try stretching out after exercise. This will not only avoid discomfort and muscle tightness later in the day but also allow you to feel refreshed and repeat the process day after day.

Walking is the perfect activity for people of all ages and abilities. There are no limitations to how long or how frequently you walk, it can be practiced anywhere, wherever you are in the world and whenever is convenient for you.