Walking - we all do it, but how can we make the most of it? There are a number of different ways we can make the most out of our walk, which is proven to have both mental and physical benefits.
In a world where fitness, wellbeing and a healthy lifestyle is becoming ever more popular, walking still remains the cheapest and easiest means of achieving all of this.
You will regularly see people enjoying a day out as they walk along the beach or through the woods, but walking should be much more than the once-a-week activity reserved for a Sunday lunchtime just before you curl back up on the sofa.
Walking is the most underappreciated form of exercise. We often forget that a lot of us do a great deal of walking day-to-day, but for those who don’t, there are a great deal of benefits to be gained from walking.
Fiona Russell, outdoors and fitness journalist and blogger from Fiona Outdoors understands the positives of walking and says that there is no excuse to not do even a little during your day:
“Even just a short, brisk walk outdoors each day can offer both physical and mental benefits. For people with busy lives you should try to use your time efficiently, such as getting off public transport a couple of stops before the office and walking the rest of the way or parking the car further away from your office so you can enjoy a walk each way daily.”
From combating anxiety to preventing illnesses, Melissa Ellefsen from The Fitness Walking Guide told us some of the best reasons to lace up your trainers.
“Regular walking can prevent or control coronary heart disease, some cancers, and diabetes. It can reduce the risk of memory loss and brain deterioration. And, it can improve your moods and reduce anxiety.”
Walking can burn fat, albeit small amounts, but it is a simple and cost effective way of trying to drop a bit of weight.
For anyone who suffers from joint problems then walking is by far the best means to get some cardio exercise into your life. Frequent walks strengthen and define your legs, buttocks and core as well as helping your troublesome knee or hip to function better.
Craig Boags, Assistant Fitness Manager at Champneys identified the risks of sitting, which is now considered to be as detrimental to our health as smoking. However, Craig says it can only take a little bit of time to counteract the health problems that can develop:
“Long bouts of sitting can increase someone’s risk for diabetes, heart disease, obesity, kidney problems and premature death.
“These risks remain elevated even if someone exercises but then spends most of the rest of his or her waking hours in a chair. Scientists wanted to see whether standing, walking or jogging in lieu of sitting was best at extending lifespans.
“What they found was a low-intensity activity like standing, by itself, had little effect on mortality risk. Those people in the study who spent a few minutes each hour engaged in low-intensity activities did not show much if any decline in death risk, compared with those who sat the most. But those who walked around after standing, replacing some of their sitting time with a light-intensity activity like strolling, gained a substantial benefit in terms of mortality risk.
“If they replaced as little as two minutes of sitting each hour with gentle walking, they lowered their risk of premature death by about 33 percent, compared with people who sat almost nonstop.”
A walk after meals will also help to lower your postprandial blood pressure and triglyceride levels, as well as stimulating your metabolism, which is key to helping you lose weight.
There is a great deal to be gained from walking for your mental state, as it helps to improve memory and even academic performance in some people.
When you are feeling swamped at work or feeling a little overwhelmed some people book a spa break, but a walk has been proven to help reduce stress as well. Walking in the countryside is particularly good for your mind or if you live in the city, just head for your favourite park.
A study from the US National Library of Medicine showed that woodland walks will help to make you feel more uplifted and positive, reducing the subjective perceptions of stress.
Craig Boags further expanded on this research, giving us a clear understanding as to the mental benefits of walking and in particular, walking in the countryside:
“Brooding or morbid rumination, is a mental state in which we can’t seem to stop thinking over the ways in which things are wrong with ourselves and our lives. This repetitive fretting is not healthy or helpful. It can be a precursor to depression and is disproportionately common among city dwellers compared with people living outside urban areas, studies show. Rumination is also strongly associated with increased activity in a portion of the brain known as the subgenual prefrontal cortex.
“Volunteers who had strolled along the quiet, tree-lined paths showed slight but meaningful improvements in their mental health, according to their scores on the questionnaire. They also had less blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex. That portion of their brains were quieter.”
While just walking can bring about a healthier body and mind, there are ways in which you can help to encourage even more positives.
Through supercharging your walk with these tips you will see your body strengthen and tighten, your mind will feel clearer and more relaxed and your general perception of life and yourself will become increasingly positive.
Poor posture leads to health problems and is something to take into consideration when you are walking.
But Craig offered us his advice for ensuring that your posture is in check while walking:
“As you increase the speed of your walk, your muscles have to work harder to keep you upright. These are the same muscles that you use to sit up tall and to carry yourself with good posture.
“Although walking by itself helps to strengthen these muscles, you also want to think about your posture as you walk. Avoid looking down at the ground or hunching over. Instead, keep your chin up and look straight in front of you. Keep your core tight and your shoulders down and back, this position will help you strengthen muscles.”
To maintain a good posture you can easily train your mind and body to focus on keeping your stomach tucked in, holding your shoulders back as you look up ahead of you.
Having a good posture will help you achieve a great calorie burn during your walk, whilst preventing the onset of any aches and pains that you may have.
Using ankle weights can cause discomfort and problems after walking, but there are a number of alternatives you can use when adding weight to your walk.
You can pack a suitable rucksack with something heavy – but comfortable – or if you are hiding from the rain and choosing to use a treadmill, grab a couple of light dumbbells and carry them as you walk.
Adding hand weights will seriously boost the number of calories you burn, as well as helping to tone your arms and upper body. This can be a little impractical, so you can spend a bit of money on a weighted vest, which works just as well.
For an extra challenge head for some hills with a pram. Pushing a pram up a hill while walking is a great way to spice up your walk and you will reap the rewards. You may not wish to have your child in the stroller, but you can replace them with a few books or even a kettlebell.
Aiming to walk more, going to the gym regularly and being more health-conscious are all goals many people hope to achieve but fail not long after starting. A great way to really benefit from walking is to set yourself clear, attainable goals.
Clearly defined and achievable goals will give you something to work towards. These can be both long-term and short-term visions and should be tracked either by using wearable devices or by simply noting down your progress as you go.
Having a record of how far you are walking and the calories you are burning for example will help you to push on and develop your targets. In no time you will notice the strides you are taking and you will be amazed by how far, fast and well you are now walking.
Walking is a very valuable exercise, even hobby, for strengthening your core and toning your abs.
The diversity of walking allows you to adopt a number of techniques which will allow you to focus on your core.
Like focusing on your posture, make a constant effort to engage your abdominal muscles as you pull in your stomach. You can adopt a process of regularly doing this, or by tensing your abs on occasion in order to help tighten and tone them as you walk.
Another method you can try is to keep your arms moving while you are walking. Whether this is just by engaging a swinging motion or by investing in walking poles, the more you move your arms the more fat you burn.
We all lead busy lives, but you can still achieve high levels of exercise by partaking in multiple short walks.
Walking itself leads to the belief that you are going to spend the whole afternoon traipsing around the countryside, when in fact you just need to spend 10 minutes a few times a day instead, as Melissa Ellefsen from The Fitness Walking Guide explained:
“By using interval walking a few times a week (period of high intensity, fast walking followed by periods of recovery walking at a slower pace), walkers can increase their caloric burn, continue to challenge themselves and build physical endurance and strength.”
The world is your treadmill when it comes to choosing where to walk. You might just want to walk around town, making your regular run for milk a little longer than normal. Or you can lace up your trainers and explore your local area.
If you live in the countryside, or within a short drive of the country, walking can be a brilliant way to discover new areas.
By mixing up your terrain and location, you can no longer use being bored as an excuse. You are not limited by equipment, all you need is a pair of trainers and a pair of legs that are capable of pleasing your curious mind when it asks: ‘I wonder what is just over that hill?’
If you are limited to walking around town you should always remember to evenly divide which side of the road you walk on. Roads are never flat, they rise in the middle, and if you are constantly walking with the road on your left you may encounter difficulties in your knees and hip.
Fiona offered us a helpful insight into tackling different terrains and the steps you can take to make it a more enjoyable experience:
“Instead of sitting down for a meeting or to catch up with a friend, why not walk and talk?
Adding in hills will bring greater benefits to cardiovascular fitness, leg strength and muscle tone.
However, in my opinion, the best kind of walking is in the hills and mountains of Scotland. Walking with a friend and enjoying the views and good chat makes the whole experience a real pleasure. It's at times like these when you forget the effort of walking uphill or the longer distances and simply gain all the advantages of being outdoors in a beautiful place with a friend. If you can't find a friend to go with, take a dog or borrow a dog. The company is always a great motivator.”
Being sedentary is now widely believed to be as bad for you as smoking and while you may not have the time for a regular trip to the gym, walking can offer you all of the health benefits you need to lead a more fruitful life.
Whether you just get out and around town for 10 minutes during your lunch break, take the longer route home after work, or sign yourself up for a walking retreat, take a step in the right direction to a healthier life.