Walking is one of the most effective, convenient, and cost-effective methods of exercise. You can walk anywhere, anytime, and with a minimal amount of equipment. For an effective walking exercise program, keep in mind:
- Proper walking shoes are essential. Running or walking shoes are preferred over “cross trainers” or aerobics shoes. Asics, New Balance, Brooks, Saucony, and Reebok are good brands to look for. Your shoes may still look new, but if you have used them 3 times a week for 6 months, you need to retire them to the garden and get a new pair.
- Bring a bottle of water with you. Your body can lose a gallon of water an hour, and it is essential to re-hydrate consistently through your walk.
- Pay attention to your technique. Your heel should strike the ground first, then you will roll through your mid foot, and at the last part of the stride, push off with your toe. To practice proper technique, you can chant heel-toe-heel-toe while you walk.
- Breathe deeply, especially up hills. I like to use a rhythmical breathing pattern that matches my steps-it keeps me motivated and in the ‘zone’.
- Listen to your steps, they should be light and balanced (ie: one foot may sound heavier than the other, or land earlier). If you are “pounding the pavement”, you are pounding your joints. Soften your muscles and joints and try to walk silently.
- Swing your arms at your side, not side to side in front of your body. Your arms pattern your legs, so keep your arms swinging, forward and back strong but relaxed, and your legs will follow.
- “Your exercise is only as beneficial as the posture in which you perform it”, says Matthias Alexander, founder of the Alexander Technique. Keep tall, relax your shoulders, breathe deeply, and feel fluid and elegant in your strides.
- Imagine you have all the time in the world for your walk. Try to walk without thinking of what you have to get done when you get back. Enjoy the moment. This may be your only time of the day that is just for you…enjoy how you feel now…remember how you will feel later not just from walking and getting fit…but from having time to clear your mind and let go….
Benefits of Walking
What you get out of walking is directly related to what you put into it. The more you focus on the present moment, get your body moving, and feel positive about taking the initiative in your health, the more you will experience the many benefits, including:
Physical Benefits: Decreased body fat, increased aerobic capacity, improved bone density, increased muscular endurance, oxidation of the blood, improved circulation, decreased risk of heart disease, stroke and hypertension.
Emotional Benefits: Improved self-esteem, sense of self-efficacy, balanced emotions, decreased anxiety and depression, increased positive self-image.
Mental Benefits: Focussed mind, time to ‘collect your thoughts’, a sense of clarity, reduced mental chatter, stimulated imagination.
Spiritual Benefits: A sense of oneness with your world, a connection with nature, a joy in living.
- Get a buddy to walk with (someone reliable and local).
- Wear a walk-man and listen to your favourite music or books on tape.
- Make an appointment with yourself to walk; write it in your date book and stick to it.
- Create a checklist, and give yourself a gold star every time you walk.
- Walk in nature…the intrinsic benefits magnify the extrinsic.
- Enjoy yourself…the more you enjoy your exercise program, the more likely you will be to continue it. Smile…it’s infective.
- Put your walking clothes out so they are the first thing you see in the morning.
- Use a heart rate monitor, pedometer or other feedback gadgets to keep focussed.
- Use a mantra, use positive visualization, focus on your goals while you walk.
- Remember why you are walking. How will you benefit? How will you feel during and after your walk?
first published in the Mind Body Messenger newsletter 2003