If you’re looking for a low-impact way to increase your fitness, are short on time or don’t feel ready to commit to an expensive gym membership, walking is the perfect option. Adults should get an average of 150 minutes of medium intensity aerobic exercise per week. That may sound like a lot, but when you break it down it’s about 30 minutes five times a week or just over 20 minutes each day of the week.
Making a regular walk part of your lifestyle has life-long benefits that go beyond weight loss. Walking improves your cognitive function and sleep, lowers your blood pressure, boosts your heart function and helps beat stress. Putting it like that it’s easy to see why it’s recommended by so many doctors as a first step to a healthier life.
Shoes and gear
Before you hit the pavement, make sure you have comfortable walking shoes that offer support and stability. If you haven’t updated your sneakers in years consider this a great opportunity to treat yourself to a new pair – taking care of your feet should be a priority and exercising in worn down shoes can have a negative flow on effect throughout your body.
Choose clothing that works well in all weather and doesn’t chafe, itch or irritate – there’s nothing worse than getting into your stride and finding you’re uncomfortable. Ditto for clothing that you find needs a lot of adjustment. Having activewear or walking gear in your wardrobe that makes you feel happy and confident will help you stay motivated to exercise without even realising it.
There’s nothing worse than putting in the effort to go out for a walk then coming home as red as a lobster! Don’t forget sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses and consider seeking a shaded route if possible.
Start slow and be realistic
Think tortoise, not hare. When you’re starting off it can be easy to get a little too enthusiastic and overestimate your capabilities. No one ends up competing in the Olympic race walking overnight, so remember to keep it slow and steady and build up your activity levels over a number of weeks rather than going from zero to 100. This will make your exercise journey sustainable and help you avoid injuries.
Don’t forget to warm up and cool down to avoid overstretching your muscles; you shouldn’t be in pain when you’re exercising. Aim to be able to talk while you’re walking, if you’re breathless you’re probably walking too fast.
Set achievable goals
Setting achievable goals and having tangible rewards for reaching them – even something as simple as a DIY at-home spa experience will help you stick to your exercise plan so you’re not tempted to push a workout off to the next day. Think about goals that are realistic for the time frame you’re working off and make them enough of a reach to motivate you without being too hard to nofollow through on.
Don’t forget to be flexible – if you’re not feeling well it’s OK to ease back for a day or two – and be patient and trust in the process. There’s no bigger motivation killer than feeling like a failure so be kind to yourself and remember that there are ebbs and flows on the way to achieving any goal.
Make it fun
If you’re low on motivation, here are a few ways to make walking more fun – think of walking as a healthy habit not a chore:
- Put on your favourite beats and let the rhythm keep you going – music apps like Spotify have plenty of walking playlists to keep you inspired
- If you love reading, download audiobooks – wanting to finish an exciting chapter or section is a great way to keep you moving if you’re running out of steam
- Walk with a friend or family member whose company you enjoy and who will keep you committed
- Seek out new walking trails and great scenery.
It’s super important to keep your fluid intake up to avoid dehydration, especially in heat and humidity. A fun drink bottle is a great motivation to keep the water flowing. There are so many to choose from these days – drink bottles with patterns, personalisation and clear bottles with quantity markers are easy to find and there are even bottles that self-clean using UV light.
Build up your incidental exercise
As humans we do a lot of walking in our day to day lives even if we’re not intentional about it. A great way to hit your exercise goals is to build up your incidental exercise. It might be a cliché but getting off the bus or train stop early; parking at the far end of the car park rather than jostling for a spot near the entrance; and taking the stairs rather than the lift are small changes that will make a big difference to your fitness in the long term.
To tech or not to tech
The great thing about walking is it’s free and doesn’t require any special equipment, which makes it perfect if you’re beginning your fitness journey. There’s no need to invest in technology if you don’t want to, but if you love stats or find that tracking your progress gives them an extra boost of motivation, pick up a wearable fitness tracker that can count your steps and monitor your activity level.
The great thing about walking is the more you do it the better you’ll feel and the more you’ll be inspired to keep it going. Even if you can’t see the results at the beginning of your exercise journey there are tangible benefits for every minute you choose to move your body that will pay out in health improvements in the course of your life. The hardest part is getting out the door that first time, so grab some comfy gear, pop in some earbuds and hit the street and let that momentum carry you forward throughout 2022.