Walking outside in the fresh air can be mentally and physically invigorating. It is a wonderful exercise that can be done at a moderately intense pace and can help you achieve WHO recommended activity guidelines for optimal health.
The guidelines recommend 30 minutes a day for five days (or 150 minutes) per week of moderate exercise. Moderate-intensity exercise such as walking has additional benefits and can boost your immune system to help protect against infections and disease, and improve your quality of sleep
So – where do you start?
Firstly – set yourself a goal and give yourself a timeline to achieve that goal. The goal could be to achieve a certain distance, such as 5 km. Your goal may be to become more consistent such as walking for 30 min 3 days a week. Whatever your goal, start small so you are more likely to achieve it and then build from there.
Prepare yourself so you increase your chance of success and reduce your chance of injury:
1. Ensure that you wear supportive and comfortable shoes designed for walking distances.
2. Be aware of your posture. Standing upright, with your head up, chin slightly tucked, and shoulders relaxed, down and back as you walk. This is especially important if you have been sitting for much of the day.
3. Adopt a brisk walking pace to elevate your heart rate. If you cannot maintain a brisk pace, try alternating between a fast tempo and a comfortable pace in regular intervals.
4. Ensure that you wear appropriate layered clothing, depending on the climate. Apply sunscreen and wear a hat, if necessary and wear or layers of clothing in the colder weather.
5. Increase your walking load gradually to avoid injury.
The best way to avoid injuries is to increase your walking capacity slowly, increasing volumes and length of walking in a graduated and organized way. If you are working towards a long-distance walk this is particularly relevant. Look at your goal and work backwards, graduating the steps towards your end goals including lengths of walking.
Follow the 10% rule to assist with this. You increase your distance by no more than 10% each week. The increments may seem small however, with persistence you are more likely to achieve your goal without injury or stirring up old joint problems.
6. Ensure you complement your walking with a few simple strengthening exercises for the calves, knees and hips. along with simple stretches.
As a starter, try these two exercises to stretch and strengthen the calf muscles:
Bilateral heel raises:
- Start in a standing position with your feet at hips-width apart.
- Keeping your knees straight, rise on to your toes.
- Return to the starting position, controlling the movement as you lower your heels to the ground.
In standing, place one foot flat on the floor behind you, keeping the knee straight and toes pointing forward.
- Bend your front knee shifting your body forward feeling a stretch in the calf of your back leg.
- Ensure the heel of your back leg stays on the floor and your leg is straight
7. Keep yourself accountable
Buddy up with a friend. Walk with a friend or if that is difficult, text your friend when you have completed each walking session and then again at the end of the week!