Did you know that walking is the most popular form of exercise?
That’s for good reason as we discussed in this article comparing walking with other forms of cardiovascular exercise a few weeks ago. Essentially, walking enables you to take more oxygen into your lungs and gets your heart pumping blood faster.
The result is a stronger immune system which gives you multiple health benefits. A growing body of evidence supports claims that walking helps to improve psychological and physical health.”
Studies have also shown that walking for as little as 30 minutes a day can have a positive impact on your mood. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain and can help to ward off mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
One of the reasons why walking is such a popular form of exercise is because it has a low entry barrier. You don’t particularly need any special equipment so it’s not costly. And you rarely have to pay anything to walk anywhere unless you visit a national park that charges an entrance fee.
However, if you want to get the most benefits out of walking, commit to a regular walking program and include some of the suggestions listed below. Here are 10 ways to get more from your walking program.
Set an Intention for Your Walking Plan
Fitness experts say that setting an intention for your walking gives you the motivation to achieve your goals. Whether you want to lose weight, improve your fitness levels, spend more time with your friends and family, explore the world or improve your health, writing down a weekly schedule that is aligned with your goals helps you to stick to your walking plan.
Writing down your goals and planning a to-do schedule is a proven strategy used in self-development programs. It’s also a strategy adopted by high achievers. When you set an intention something is triggered in your psychology that makes you accountable for your actions and allows you to take control of your life choices.
Embrace Fitness Walking
Studies show that walking at any pace has some benefits, but if you want to get more from your walking program, fitness walking is the way to go. The options are brisk walking, nordic walking or speed walking.
Walking at a faster pace naturally burns more calories and helps you to maintain your weight. There are even claims that fitness walking can help with weight loss but the results are inconclusive. You also need to watch what you eat if the goal of your walking program is to lose weight.
But what fitness walking does do is make you breathe harder – which as mentioned above strengthens immunity. Oxygen is needed to create white blood cells which in turn create T-cells – the foot soldiers of the immune system which are the first on the scene to defend your body against viruses (like Covid), bacteria and infections.
For optimum benefits, you should be looking to target at least 30 minutes of brisk walking five time a week – so around two miles per session. However, if you haven’t exercised in a while, listen to your body and don’t demand too much too soon.
Walk In Nature
Modern lifestyles are stressful. And stress is known to be the underlying cause for 75%-90% of all doctor’s visits – illnesses that could be prevented if we do not allow high levels of stress hormones to linger in the system.
Stress also has a negative effect on our psychological health. It is a contributing factor to anxiety and depression – although there are usually underlying factors which trigger anxiety and depression in the first place. Stress simply makes the condition worse.
Numerous studies show that spending time in nature plays a critical role in mental health. It helps our brains to rest and recuperate and thus, fight against sensory overload and burnout.
Because walking in nature is known to help relieve stress and anxiety, physicians recommend nature walks to patients struggling with anxiety and depression.
Walking in nature as a family can also help you to bond and make closer connections. And if you find it difficult to convince your kids, especially teenagers, to go for a nature walk, make the time fun and engaging. Check out our article about ‘How to get kids excited about nature walks’ for some tips.
If one of your goals is to lose weight or improve your fitness, you will get more from your walking program by tackling steep hills. You don’t have to climb hills every day, but integrating a hill or two into your route two or three times a week will be more beneficial than sticking to flat surfaces.
Hillwalking naturally requires you to use more leg power – which means burning more energy. It also helps you to build muscle strength and breath more deeply. You also have to push harder from your hips which gives your glutes a workout as well. So if you want a firmer butt, hills are a great option.
But the challenge of walking up hills is as much about mental strength as it is physical. Yes, it feels daunting and doesn’t really get easier the more you practice. If anything, you develop more resistance because you know what to expect.
To climb hills, therefore, you have to develop the right mindset. This is where setting that intention to get more from your walking program pays dividends. Before you tackle the hill, remind yourself why you have to conquer the hill. Focus on your goal.
Hill walking can also be made easier and more beneficial by adopting the right technique – which we have documented in our article, Tips for Walking up Hills.
Walk With Family, Friends or a Group
Joining a walking group or cajoling a friend or family members to join your walking program has several benefits; it helps you (and them) stick to the plan and gives you some company – which is great for nourishing your emotional well-being. You will be in an even better mood after your walking workout with a friend than you are exercising on your own.
Sarah Hanson, a researcher with the Norwich Medical School at the University of East Anglia in the UK, underscored the importance for people to recognise that walking in a group delivers several health benefits, namely improvements in lung power, overall physical functioning, positive changes in blood pressure, body mass index and general fitness levels.
Hanson has also conducted research on the social aspect of walking in groups. She commented:
“There are a lot of lonely, isolated people who really benefit from this aspect of the group. For others, though, a group walk represents an opportunity to be led on a walk with people around and have quiet head-clearing time, which is equally important too.”
Take A Walking Vacation
We all need a vacation to destress and whilst most people typically find relaxing around a pool the best way for them to recuperate, studies show that a walking vacation may actually be more beneficial. Especially if your walking goal is to lose weight – you won’t achieve that on a beach holiday!
Walking holidays can be as relaxing as you like despite the energy you are expending. A morning or afternoon stroll through forests, mountains and valleys is the natural remedy you need to destress and allow yourself to re-connect with your own nature.
In addition to feeling more invigorated and refreshed, a walking holiday is a good opportunity for you to spend more time bonding with your loved ones. Nature walks are an ideal opportunity for you to talk with your spouse and children about all kinds of things and reminisce about the past.
Furthermore, you’re more likely to have unique experiences you wouldn’t ordinarily have on a traditional beach holiday to a city break. Exploring new places on foot brings you into contact with wildlife, flora and fauna you don’t often see or have never seen.
And then there are the friendly exchanges you have with the locals as you pass them in the countryside or browse through the souvenir shops and cafes in the quaint villages en route. Here you are free to overindulge in local delicacies, cheese and wine because you know you will walk it off.
Incorporate Interval Training Into Your Walking Program
Interval training involves alternating between hard and easy strains during your workout. Fitness experts discovered that interval training gets you quicker results and prevents you from getting bored by a monotonous routine because you have to focus and try harder when the intensity is ramped up.
A fitness study found that high-intensity interval training burned 25–30% more calories than a regular exercise program. Participants were able to exercise for two-thirds of the time less than the usual program to get the same results.
The reason for that is that high-intensity interval training burns the same number of calories in less time. To integrate high-intensity interval training into your walking program, walk as fast as you can for a minute then drop your pace to a comfortable brisk walk.
Interval training is easy to do on a treadmill because you have more control over the pace you set yourself to walk. However, once you are accustomed to the different speeds, you should be able to adapt to interval training outdoors as well. A speedometer might help.
Try to Improve Your Personal Best
Another option for challenging yourself to work harder and get more from your walking program is to time yourself and try to beat your personal best each time. Try shaving 5-10 seconds of each time.
Competing with yourself actually helps you to develop more than improving your fitness. It also builds mental strength and a sense of achievement – both of which are good for your personal well-being and mental health.
Desire is the chief ingredient of success and breaking through the mental barrier to overcome pain thresholds builds stamina and resilience – qualities you can use in other areas of your life which goal setting plays an active role.
Once you hit the plateau where beating your personal best becomes more difficult, try adopting a dynamic warm-up and improving your technique. This strategy lends itself to helping you get more from your walking program.
Try Mindfulness Walking
Researchers at Stanford discovered there is a correlation between mindfulness walking and creativity. It increases your capacity to observe what is happening in your inner world; your thoughts and emotions.
Mindful walking simply means being aware of your breath, your steps, your body and your surroundings. Depending on where you are walking you have to shift your focus of attention to different places.
Again, walking in nature is a good place to engage in mindful walking. Nature trails have uneven terrain and the occasional challenge you need to overcome to continue, Walking across a log to cross a stream for example.
These type of challenges force your mind to become aware of your surroundings and enhances spatial and vestibular awareness needed for balance. Uneven terrain also helps to burn more calories and strengthen stabiliser muscles.
Mindfulness walking also involves using your five senses to take in sights, smells, noises, touch and possibly taste. Focusing on your surroundings helps to get you out of your head, quiet the monkey mind and liberate your mind of disruptive or stressful thoughts.
Use a Fitness Tracker
Fitness trackers help you to keep a record of your goals and measure your performance in the field. They help to inform you whether you need to work harder to hit your targets or whether you can rest a little.
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