Updated: Sep 16, 2020
What if I told you there was an exercise that is accessible to almost anyone, anywhere, that can decrease the risk of heart disease, decrease blood pressure levels, improve cardiovascular fitness, strengthen lower body muscles, improve mental health, reduce pain, improve posture and decrease stress. And you already knew how to do it? Oh yeah, and it was free? Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it?
Lucky for you, this time it’s not too good to be true. In my opinion, walking is the most underrated exercise in the world. As I mentioned, going for a walk is an option that (almost) anyone, anywhere, has the opportunity to take advantage of. It’s free, which makes it even more accessible.
Just walking 30mins per day, most days per week can have significant benefits for your heart and health. For best results, aim to walk at a moderate pace. You should be able to carry on a conversation, but not sing a song. This will get your heart pumping and blood flowing- enough to see improvements in your cardiovascular health such as lower blood pressure and less risk of heart disease.
Walking can also improve your mood and reduce stress and anxiety. This is true whether you’re on a treadmill inside or exploring the great outdoors, but I think the fresh air and vitamin D help even more. Plus, I find that the motion of walking helps me think and concentrate on an idea or problem and work through it.
Walking is a low impact activity, so it is suitable for people who have joint pain or are concerned about developing joint issues. It can also improve or maintain balance levels in senior citizens. But don’t think that going for walks is just for retirees. You can benefit from walking no matter your age! You can increase the difficulty of your walks by trying some hill climbs, or simply walking faster or longer.
After walking, your muscles and tendons will be more pliable so it’s a great time to work on your flexibility. If you stretch each major muscle group after you’ve walked, plus focus on any tight areas you have, you’ll likely see an improvement in posture and reduced pain.
For more benefits of exercise click here.
If you don’t have a physical exercise routine, walking is a fantastic place to start. Try to get into a routine of walking for about 30mins almost every day. If that seems unrealistic for you right now, just work your way up to it. Something is always better than nothing! Schedule your walk at the same time every day so that you’re less likely to miss it. Once you’ve established a routine with walking, you should consider adding a strength routine. After all, you need both cardiovascular exercise and strength training for optimal health.
Making time and committing to a routine is a big hurdle for a lot of people when it comes to making changes to their health, but if you start small by going for a short walk most days, then increase the length of your walks to at least 30mins, you’ll already have practiced the self-discipline and commitment needed to succeed at any other exercise program. You could add a strength routine to the end of your walks a few times a week or dedicate all the time you’ve committed to walking to a program that includes a combination of cardiovascular, strength, balance and flexibility training. But if you’re like me, you’ll love your walks so much you’ll want to continue them even though you’re doing other exercise!
So how can you incorporate walking into your routine more often? Here are some suggestions:
Walk with a friend. Instead of always going to a coffee shop to catch up with your bestie, the two of you could explore local trails together, or get your coffee to go and walk the streets in town.
Listen to an audiobook or podcast. Time flies when you’re wrapped up in a narrative. You might even find it easier to concentrate on your book or podcast when you’re walking. Then, once it becomes a habit, when you want to listen to your favourite audio experience, you’ll know it’s time to lace up your sneakers and go for a walk too.
Walk to local shops. Instead of driving to another city for their restaurants, shops and cafes, why not check out the ones in walking distance (plus you’re supporting local!)
Include your kids. Walk to the park on the other side of town or go on a nature or photo scavenger hunt.
Walk to work (or church, or book club, or school or pick one thing that is feasible for you.)
Go on a walk first thing in the morning. You may have to get up earlier but going for a walk as soon as you wake up is so refreshing and energizing. It is about the best possible start to the day that I can think of. It even makes your breakfast taste better. And don’t worry, once you figure out how rewarding it is, you won’t even be tempted to hit snooze!
Go for hikes on the weekend with friends and family. There are so many beautiful parks and conservation areas for you to explore.
Park farther away, take the stairs, or get off on the bus stop before your own. If you’re really strapped for time you might need to try getting a few more steps in throughout the day here and there, but don’t worry those add up too. Remember, something is always better than nothing.
Have I convinced you yet? If you’re looking for an easy and accessible way to start improving your health, go for a walk! There is no cost, equipment or previous experience required, you can multi-task (talk to a friend or listen to a book), you get fresh air and Vitamin D, you’ll practice self-discipline and other valuable life skills, you’ll feel better for it and there is little risk but much reward!
If you need a little extra motivation check out my blog post about Motivating Yourself to Exercise.
See you on the trails, friends!