The most underrated form of exercise

The most underrated form of exercise – the benefits of walking

When people think about working out, more often than not, walking is not an exercise that they think to include in their weekly routine. But they should. Walking is actually the safest, least expensive, and overall, most beneficial way to lose weight and improve cardiovascular health. All ages can take part and it’s absolutely free.

I have been running for the past few years now as part of my cardiovascular workouts, and training to enter various events. But over time I have had to deal with various injuries which have stopped me from consistently being able to run. But I still really wanted to enter a challenging event, and it was at this time as I was trawling the internet for something to do, that I came across the Oxfam Trailwalk, a 100k walk over the South Downs that had to be completed within 30 hours. Walking I thought, yeah, I could do this. You had to participate in a team of four people, and you had to have a support crew throughout the whole time you were out there. So, I recruited three other girlfriends to walk with me and pleaded with our husbands to join us and support us throughout the event. I started to include training walks into my fitness schedule most weekends, slowly building up distance, and alongside this performing strength exercises in the gym to help keep my legs strong enough to endure the ever-increasing distances and the different terrain we were going to experience.

I have to be honest, always in my mind, I thought this was not going to be so hard, it was, at the end of the day, only walking. But how wrong I was. It was a hard and exhilarating challenge, not only on the body but mentally tough as well. A challenge that had us all laughing, crying and proud to have walked and completed 100km (62miles). I loved it so much that I am due to walk 3 marathons in 3 days over the Jurassic Coast, hopefully later on this year.

But don’t think that just because walking is a relatively easy form of exercise that you should jump headfirst in, especially if you’re new to exercise. You need to take it one step at a time! Create realistic goals and build up your fitness level.

So, let’s look at some of the benefits of walking:

  1. It is a gentle low impact exercise so therefore creates less stress on the joints and bones. For some people, those with ankle, knee, back pain, and those classified as badly overweight to obese, this would be the recommended form of exercise over running.
  2. It can help with reducing weight and body fat and gaining muscle. By picking up the pace and introducing hills will increase your heart rate which in turn will burn more calories. Try interval training, short bursts of increased speed or incline gives a little variety to your walk and helps to work you harder.
  3. It helps to strengthen the heart by increasing the heart rate, which in turn makes it more efficient at delivering oxygen and nutrients to the body’s organs.
  4. As this is a weight-bearing form of exercise it is helpful in maintaining bone density and strengthening muscles, which is incredibly important as we age.
  5. Exercise can help to boost your mood and alleviate depression symptoms by releasing endorphins which trigger positive feelings in the body.
  6. A good walk can do wonders for our mental wellbeing. It can help to improve self-perception and self-esteem, mood and sleep quality. This type of activity helps to reconnect to nature, and it has been documented to increase people’s level of creativity. And you can exercise with others making it more social and keeping people in contact with each other.
  7. It’s simple, it’s free, and can be done anywhere, therefore making it easy to incorporate into busy days.

Here are some tips for starting out:

    1. Get a decent pair of trainers

      There are so many brands out there it can be a bit of a minefield, but find a pair that gives you the correct support and impacts your comfort whilst exercising

    2. Start slowly.

      If you have been inactive, then start gently with 5 to 10 minutes at a pace you are comfortable with and build up over the following weeks until you have reached your goal.

    3. Set goals.

      Set realistic goals for yourself, such as 20 to 40 minutes of walking five days a week.

    4. Fail to Plan … Plan to Fail.

      Plan strategies for incorporating short walks into your day to keep your plan on track. And try and stay as consistent as you can.

    5. Plan several different routes.

Having several routes to choose from will add variety to your walking so you don’t get bored. Plan inclines into your walk and include several intervals where you up the pace a bit to make your walk more challenging. Remember to start at a comfortable pace and slowly build from there, increasing pace and distance.

  • Make walking a social event

    Invite friends or family to join you so they can also enjoy the benefits of walking with you. Making plans with others is also a good way to keep you accountable so you always turn up


Techniques for Walking that can help when increasing power and speed

Starting with good posture – standing tall with a nice straight back, suck in the stomach just a little to engage your ab muscles, look straight ahead of you with your chin parallel to the floor, and relax your shoulders.

Arm Motion can help with increasing power and speed – Keep your elbows at 90 degrees by your side and as one foot goes forward the opposite arm goes back, your hands should stay quite low and keep elbows close to the body

Walking Stride – don’t take too long a stride, strike the foot down on the heel and roll through to push off from the toe. As you become comfortable with your stride you can start to increase your speed and take smaller strides.

It’s a great opportunity to get out there and explore and appreciate some of the beautiful green spaces that we are lucky enough to have around us. Happy Walking!

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