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What is walking?

Walking is the main motion of land-based animals with limbs. When animals walk at least one, two or three limbs are still on the ground depending on the species. Always when walking there is a multi limb support phase, which means two or more legs are on the ground at one time.There are of course hoppers, like wallabies who have there own way of getting around. Their way of moving around is very different and very efficient and effective!

Apes have a unique bipedal gait because we lack tails! Most apes aren’t very efficient moving on the ground, burning a lot of energy, whether on four limbs, knuckle walking or going bipedal. Apes evolved in the trees. Our anatomy still reflects this origin.

Despite this, humans are exceptionally good walkers who use very little energy doing so compared to most other animals. Our anatomy has radically changed to achieve this over 5 million years, although in the last 2 million years our limbs and spine anatomy has hardly changed at all. By 2 million years ago in appears our ancestors had mastered bipedal (two legged) walking and running without tails.


Human walking involves two distinct phases of gait for each limb, a swinging through the air phase (swing phase) and a contact the ground phase (support/stance phase). The following terms are used in walking:

  • Stride; the period of one foot hitting the ground to the next time that same foot hits the ground again.
  • Step; the period of one foot hitting the ground to the other foot hitting the ground.
  • Stance/support phase; the period that a foot is weight bearing around 60% of a stride.
  • Swing phase; the period that a foot is not in contact with the ground, about 40% of a stride.

The difference between walking and running is that stance phase drops to around 40%, and swing becomes around 60%. But critically, there is a phase where neither limb is on the ground, called the float phase.

Walking is great for you. It is what humans are really good at, and doing it daily improves your health, by improving:

  • Cardio-respiratory fitness (fit heart & lungs)
  • Reduces the risk of heart disease
  • Reduces vascular disease
  • Reduces risk of blood clots
  • Reduces fluid around the ankles call œdema
  • It helps lower your blood pressure
  • Reduces stress inducing hormones like cortisol
  • Improves muscles and bones strength

In fact if walking was a drug, it would be declared a miracle drug, and every doctor would prescribe it to all their patients as soon as they could do it! Cardio-respiratory fitness (known as CRP) is the best indicator of our overall health and fitness; and is a good indicator of life expectancy.

Getting outdoors also exposes you to more sunshine and that helps in the production of vitamin D. Vitamin D has an important part in keeping your bones and soft tissues strong. Remember the darker your skin, the more important it is to be outside in the daylight with some skin exposure daily. This is especially true during pregnancy.

Walking also has a very important part to play in our mental wellbeing especially if you can walk in a park, countryside or somewhere wild.

HealthyStep exists to make sure you are taking healthy steps! We are here to help you keep walking, because 20 minutes of brisk walking a day can make such a difference to your health. Just remember to smile and say high to everyone you meet!


  • Wear good shoes and clothing appropriate to the terrain you are going to walk on, and the weather conditions.
  • Wear good comfortable protective walking socks to avoid rubs and blisters. Make sure they aren’t tight on the feet.
  • Build up slowly. Start with a 20-minute walk at your own pace and only gradually build up. It you can try and walk with people of a similar ability.
  • Walking with friends and family regularly and arrange the next one if you can. Making it a regular feature of your life is the important thing to be consistent with the exercise and there is nothing like other people replying on you to make you go. Dog ownership is a great example of this.
  • Always walk somewhere nice and fun, that changes with the season if you can. Canal towpaths, and parks are ideal for the beginner.
  • If city walking, how about walking to the shops rather than driving? Even consider walking to the gym rather than driving if you can.
  • Keep the skin of your feet in good condition. Dry brittle skin can crack with increased walking. Moisture between your toes can cause athletes foot, or skin splits, while overly long nails can cut neighbouring toes.
  • Don’t leg pains in the feet and legs build up into something serious. If your new to walking, you might get the odd ache here and there, but they should disappear in a week or two, and the more you walk the less you should get as you strengthen.
  • Consider some protective support insoles when you first take up walking, or if you experience foot ache or discomfort during or after walking. 

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