I saw a 60-year-old guy at Highbury gym a few weeks ago walking aimlessley around, occasionally trying out a piece of equipment but abandoning it a few moments later. Eventually he settled on the chest press but didn’t make much of it. I asked him if he needed help. He said it was his first time in a gym and he was wanting to lose weight. He was clearly distraught at facing the consequences of this decision. ‘But why the gym?’ I asked him. He thought it was what people did to lose weight. I was certain that this was going to be the last as well as his first visit to the gym and he’d already decided that he hated it. So I told him that he didn’t need the gym and he should chuck it in and not waste his time. He was surprised – and rather excited – by this advice. I told him he should leave the gym immediately and go for a brisk walk around Highbury Fields. Will that do any good? he asked. It will do you the world of good, I assured him. Do one round of the fields today at a brisk pace and tomorrow do two rounds. Continue on two rounds until you feel you are ready to do three. Keep a brisk pace and introduce a 3-minute burst of fast walking when you feel ready. Gradually increase the rounds until you feel you’ve reached a comfortable maximum. You should be hot and slightly out of breath by the end of each walk. I haven’t seen the guy in the gym since I spoke to him – mind you, I haven’t seen him walking around Highbury Fields either!
I’ve always advised clients of the benefits of walking. Recently Public Health England expressed concern that the amount of activity people did started to tail off from the age of 40. They’re urging those between the ages of 40 and 60 to start doing regular brisk walks – my dad was giving out the same advice 60 years ago; it was the only exercise he ever did (walking briskly between pubs usually) and he lived to be 90. Public Health England says 10 minutes a day could reduce the risk of early death by 15%. But the body estimates four out of every 10 40-to 60-year olds take a brisk walk less frequently than once a month.
You can download the free app - Active 10 - which monitors the amount of brisk walking you do and provides tips on how to incorporate more into your daily routine. You get points when you walk briskly - you might be surprised how little brisk walking you actually do each day. I notice I don’t score so many points when I’m walking my dog because she keeps stopping to sniff things and pee. I’ve decided to keep her on the lead for at least one of her daily walks so that we can both benefit from a brisk walk - and when I say brisk, I mean brisk interspersed with 3-minute bursts of fast walking as this leads to more fat loss, improved fitness and glucose control. In fact, I might get her a mobile phone and tie it to her collar so she can use the app too. She's been looking a little tubby recently.