Spring is (finally) in the air so now is the time to add a little spring to your step as well and add walking to your fitness routine.
As a runner, I personally have overlooked the benefits of walking because I figured that surely running had to be better for me (how did I become such a running snob???) I am now however, starting to learn that that is not necessarily the case. Sure–running has some added cardio benefits and might help you reach your fitness goals a bit more quickly; however, running can also be extremely hard on the body and lead to joint problems and other injuries. This information about the benefits of walking appeals to me because though I don’t intend to give up on running (participating in a half marathon is still on my bucket list), I am excited to hear that walking is a viable option for me on those days when my body just isn’t up for a run.
Walking is one of the easiest and most enjoyable forms of exercise but don’t let its simplicity fool you into thinking that it lacks the punch of other, more high intensity workouts. In fact; walking is one of the most effective exercises to help keep age related health problems at bay, and walking just twenty minutes a day can do wonders for your overall well-being.
One benefit of walking is the fact that it doesn’t require a bunch of fancy fitness equipment. A good, comfortable pair of shoes is really all you need to get started though adding a pedometer can help you to track how much you are moving and help you to set and reach your fitness goals. If a pedometer or tracking device (my favorite device is my pretty, pink Garmin Forerunner) isn’t in your price range, you can also download a free pedometer app (like Runtastic) for your smartphone. Having your smartphone with you as you walk is also a good idea because it gives you the ability to call someone if you run into problems like rain or you get lost (don’t laugh–it has happened to me!) I also love the fact that having my iPhone with me allows me to listen to podcasts or music as I walk, and studies have shown that adult walkers who listen to music as they walk, tend to exercise 21% longer than those who walk in silence. Additionally, listening to your favorite tunes as you walk also improves thinking skills. A recent Ohio State University study has shown that the mix of exercise and music is a potent combination because exercise makes you feel better emotionally and physically while music stimulates your creativity. Combining the two heightens the benefits of both. If however; you are more into podcasts than music, check out some of my favorite podcasts here.
In order to maximize the benefits of your walk, try a few of these simple tips…
Seven tips to Rock Your Walk
1.) Pick up the pace. You don’t need to run, but walking as quickly as you can without losing the ability to carry on a conversation or sing along to your favorite song, will increase the fitness benefit of your walk.
2.) Nibble on some dark chocolate beforehand. The antioxidants in dark chocolate are especially beneficial to walkers because they help to ease discomfort–even in folks with chronic leg pain.
3.) Move in short bursts. You don’t need to walk for an hour at a time. If you have five or ten minutes during your lunch hour, take a walk. Then, in the evening after supper take another short walk. Those minutes will add up quickly over time.
4.) Don’t forget your water. Take along a bottle of water to avoid dehydration. This is especially important during warm weather. Water is better than sports drinks if you are going on a short walk because the calories in a sports drink can negate the weight loss benefits of the walk. Sports drinks are more appropriate if you are going on a particularly long or strenuous walk because of the extra energy they can provide.
5.) Switch it up. Avoid boredom by varying your walking routes but make sure that you stay safe by walking in well lit and populated areas. For a fun change of scenery, find a trail with hilly terrain. Not only will it offer a bit of variety but the more challenging terrain will also increase your heart rate and help to strengthen your joints.
6.) Add some weight. Those without neck, shoulder, back, knee or ankle injuries can try adding hand or ankle weights as they walk. The added resistance will build muscle more quickly and increase the amount of calories burned.
7.) Chin up. Keeping your head up and focusing on a far-off object such as a house or tree in the distance (and keeping your gaze fixed on that object) will trick your brain and body into thinking that you’re walking a shorter distance than you really are.
Some people really enjoy walking with friends while others prefer to use their walk time as “me-time”. Personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. On normal walks I prefer to go it alone so that I can catch up on my favorite podcasts. However; I live in the gorgeous state of Colorado where we have an abundance of beautiful hikes and trails to explore. If I am planning to take on an unfamiliar trail or a more challenging hike, I always go with a buddy.
There’s nothing complicated about adding walking to your fitness routine and it something that you can start small with and increase your distance over time. The benefits of walking however are numerous and immediate. Here are just a few of the good things that you’ll begin experiencing if you add walking to your fitness regiment…
More Benefits of Walking…
–Weight loss. Probably the most popular reason for anyone to begin any new fitness program is so that they can lose some weight. Well, walking just happens to be great for weight loss. Not only will burning the extra calories help you to lose weight, but walking also thwarts disease triggering inflammation caused by extra fat–especially belly fat. Research shows that overweight adults in their 40’s and 50’s who walk briskly most days are just as healthy as their thinner peers.
–Spark brighter ideas. If you are feeling uninspired or are in a creative funk, head outside for a quick walk. When researchers at Santa Clara University in California asked volunteers working on a creativity test to either take a short stroll or stay seated at their desk, they found that the individuals who went for a stroll came up with twice as many innovative solutions and subjectively better ideas than those who remained seated. This seems to indicate that walking helps the mind shift from intense focus to stream-of-consciousness mode, allowing fresh associations to come to the surface.
–Boost confidence. A recent Gallup poll has determined that people who were regularly active (even with low stress workouts such as walking) had more positive self-images regardless of their weight or appearance. This is because physical activity triggers your body to release endorphins which are brain chemicals that boost feelings of confidence and contentment.
–Train your brain. Not only does regular aerobic exercise (which includes brisk walking) make you healthier, according to researchers from New Zealand’s University of Otago, it can also make you smarter. This happens because aerobic exercise promotes the growth of new brain cells and improves connections between neurons so that they work more effectively.
–Strengthen bones. Women can lose up to 20% of their bone mass during and after menopause. Walking puts pressure on your bones (especially in fracture-prone areas like the legs and hips) which in turn helps to strengthen them and stimulate new bone growth.
–Ease achy joints. A new Arthritis Care and Research study reveals that you can reduce your knee-related pain and physical limitation by 18% for every 1000 steps (roughly half a mile) you take. As the researches explain, walking strengthens joint-protective muscles and encourages the release of pain thwarting chemicals, keeping your knees healthy and osteoarthritis free.
–Rev your memory. Walking increases blood flow to your brain and decreases the inflammation that is linked to memory-impairing brain plaques. This results in a 27% drop in the likelihood of developing dementia.
–Add years to your life. Studies show that adults who stay active by walking live as long as hard-core fitness buffs. Every minute of walking (even at a leisurely pace) extends your life by SEVEN minutes. This is because walking strengthens your heart and improves oxygen flow throughout your body.
When you combine the ease of walking with the numerous and significant benefits of walking, there is no denying that it should be a key component to any fitness program. Start small–just stroll down to the end of your block and back, but start TODAY. A year from now–you’ll be so glad that you did!