It’s more than a walk in the park
Walking outside in the fresh air can be mentally and physically invigorating. Walking is a whole-body form of exercise when performed at a moderately intense pace, and helps you achieve the recommended activity guidelines for optimal health. Walking in environments that offer interesting visual ‘moments’ — termed “awe walks” has the potential to booster mental health.
Activity guidelines set by the World Health Organization include 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. Walking at a brisk pace for 30-minutes five days a week meets that goal. In addition to physical and mental benefits, walking can boost your immune system to protect against infections and disease, and improve your sleep quality.
Is walking an obstacle in your path?
Despite the health benefits of walking, it is commonly viewed as a low-intensity form of exercise reserved for older people. This attitude appears to be more prevalent in men, as exercise is often associated with competitive sports. While athletic activities such as weightlifting and high intensity interval training (HIIT) burn calories and provide cardiovascular benefits in young and older adults, walking serves as an ideal low-impact aerobic activity with minimal hazards.
Set out on the right foot
So, how do you start? Firstly, set yourself a goal and a timeline to achieve that goal. For example, your goal could involve building over 6 weeks to a 5 km sustained walk. Your goal may be to become more consistent with walking such as a 30 min walk for 3 days a week. Whatever your goal, start small so you are more likely to achieve it and then build from there. Here’s a helpful link to a previous blog on walking we developed last year. Below are practical hints to keep motivated and be successful in walking for health!
Prepare yourself so you increase the chance of success
- Ensure that you wear supportive and comfortable shoes designed for walking distances.
- Be aware of your posture, standing upright, with your head up, chin slightly tucked, and shoulders relaxed, down and back as you walk. This is especially important if you have been sitting for prolonged periods during the day.
- Adopt a brisk walking pace to elevate your heart rate. If you cannot maintain a brisk pace, try alternating between a fast tempo and comfortable pace in regular intervals.
- Ensure that you wear appropriate layered clothing, depending on the weather. Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat are a good idea, or layers of clothing in the colder weather.
- Increase your walking load gradually to avoid injury. This can be done by increasing your speed of walking and/or the distance.
The best way to avoid injuries is to increase your walking capacity slowly, increasing speed and distance of walking in a graduated and organized way. If you are working towards a long-distance walk this is particularly relevant. Examine your end goal and work backwards, graduating the steps towards increasing the duration and distance of walking.
Follow the 10% rule to assist with the gradual increase. Increase your distance by no more than 10% each week. The increments may seem small. However, with persistence, you are more likely to achieve your goal without injury, or aggravating previous joint problems.
- Ensure you complement your walking with a few simple strengthening exercises for the calves, knees and hips along with simple stretches.
As a starter, try these two exercises to stretch and strengthen the calf muscles:
Bilateral heel raises
- In a standing position, place your feet hip-width apart.
- Keeping your knees straight, rise on to your toes.
- Return to the starting position, controlling the movement as you lower your heels to the ground.
- While standing, place one foot flat on the floor behind you, keeping the knee straight and toes pointing forward.
- Bend your front knee, shifting your body forward, feeling a stretch in the calf of your back leg.
- Ensure the heel of your back leg stays on the floor and your leg is straight.
- Keep yourself accountable
Buddy up with a friend. Walk with a friend or, if that is difficult, text your friend when you have completed each walking session and then again at the end of the week!
WALKING: the most ancient exercise and still the best modern exercise. Carrie Latet