Throughout the pandemic, many of us re-discovered the joy and benefits of the simple walk. It’s a great activity regardless of your age or fitness level. Not all walks are the same – you can stroll along at a leisurely pace or you can really make a walk count.
If you want to hit the pavement with more purpose, here’s how you can design your walks to reap the most health benefits.
Just like any form of exercise, you should incorporate a warm-up and cool-down period on your walk. Before you head off, it’s a good idea to wake up your legs first. In a seated position, you can do a few ankle circles, stretch your toes up to the sky then point them down. Standing up and holding onto a countertop or door frame, raise onto your tip toes then lower down, and complete some gentle leg swings and big arm circles. Start your walk at a slow pace for the first five minutes and then think about upping the speed. You can go at a faster pace for short intervals – one minute fast, two minutes slow – until you build up your fitness. As your walk comes to an end, slow down the pace for the final leg, finishing with a comfortable walk to take you home.
Walking on an incline challenges your body in ways a flat surface doesn’t and uses your legs, glutes and calves differently. Walking uphill also uses different muscles to walking downhill – so there are advantages to including both directions. If you’re not used to walking on inclines, don’t go too steep too soon. Even a slight incline can be a good challenge and if you are feeling great then why not add in a set of stairs or two for good measure.
Your feet will want to keep up with the beat, so the faster the music, the faster you’ll walk. Try it out. Your favourite tunes will also make the walk more interesting. Only wear one earphone and keep your other ear alert to your surroundings and the traffic. You can also try podcasts to keep your mind active and create an environment that is both mentally and physically engaging.
It’s great to find a walking buddy. You don’t have to share every walk you do, but occasionally walking with a friend can be great for motivation and you may find you walk faster and further. Ideally, going with someone you know will push your pace (not slow you down) and the combined walking/chatting is also a great indicator of how well you’re walking. When you’re at the ‘height’ of your walk or doing a fast-paced interval, you shouldn’t be able to talk and walk at the same time. It’s a great gauge of your effort level.
A great way to add some resistance to your training is doing some squats, push-ups or light dumbbell work before you start your walk or after you finish. By doing some resistance training you will increase your joint health and bone mineral density leading to better walking as well as better overall health!
Walking on a treadmill offers a controlled environment, making it a safe option for individuals who may have difficulty walking outside due to uneven terrain, for those recovering from injury or for those who just want to avoid the cold or wet weather. You can easily control pace and incline and monitor your progress by tracking distance, speed and calories burned.
If you’re feeling really sore in the same areas and it doesn’t feel like regular muscle soreness, you may have a weakness or asymmetry in your body that needs attention. A Personal Trainer may be able to suggest some other exercises to help strengthen weak points or you may need some treatment for an underlying issue from a physio or similar. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
There’s no point in getting into a great walking routine and then having it interrupted by a preventable injury. It’s a great idea to invest in a good pair of walking shoes to ensure proper support and cushioning. You should also focus on your posture regularly throughout a walk. A good walking posture incorporates the following:
Remember, any walk is better than no walk at all – so listen to your body and do whatever you feel is achievable for you on a given day. As long as you’re moving, even if it’s only a short stroll, your body will thank you.
Sam is a qualified personal trainer and the National Fitness Manager for Genesis Health + Fitness clubs located across Australia. He designs future programs for members, including those aged 60+.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.