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Don’t discount the daily walk

A daily walk provides enormous health benefits – but can be overlooked in the rush to start ambitious exercise regimes. No one has ever finished a walk and said, “Well that was a waste of time!” Following on our series of one small change – read on to find out how you can incorporate a walk into your routine.

Just start with walking to the gym instead

An elderly relative of mine has a number of health issues, with diabetes being the most concerning. She is largely inactive and very overweight and both of these factors are compounding over time. She also fully understands that she can reverse all of the negative effects if she started an exercise program.

After yet another consultation with her GP, she concluded that she was going to join the gym.

Her doctor looked at her and said “Hold the gym membership. Start with just walking to the gym instead.”

Undoubtedly an appropriately prescribed exercise program would provide enormous health benefits for her. However, often grand gestures of throwing oneself into a gym program can be short-lived. A new program or even a modified program can bring discomfort, right through to pain that can impact the desire to return.

And in my experience, it takes an enormous amount of willpower, support from family and disposable income to commit to a gym program when you have decades of inactivity under your belt.

Now my elderly relative may be an extreme example to you. However, I often see the same attitude in different settings. For example: Why walk, when the benefits of running are so much more?

The humble walk has become passé in our instagramable culture of fitness. But I am here to tell you that this is an activity that should not be overlooked. And if you are a runner – keep running. If this activity brings you joy – then this is your activity.

I am not a runner.

I have tried to be a runner several times in my life. I really wanted to identify as a runner and enjoy the benefits of running can bring – burning extra calories and the ultimate… the elusive running high. But no matter how many times I have committed, running has never brought me joy. Even with a double bra, my breasts are like unwanted guests on the ride and I don’t like the heavy impact of my body as it hits the pavement.

And that is ok. I have discovered other activities that activate the cardiovascular system that does bring me joy (read this blog to learn more). Activities where I am not focused on being a runner – but am running to get a ball or get my heart rate up on my bike.

But I do love a walk.

And particularly a walk in nature. Even when I am in the city, I find the river or the park for my walk destination. Or some of my best walking routes traverse all the beautiful front gardens in my neighbourhood. It is my favourite kind of catch-up date with friends – both local and from afar. But equally, I am very happy to walk on my own. I am very happy to be alone with my own thoughts, however more often I listen to a book or a podcast. Audible is one of my favourite apps and I have daily podcasts that when they land, I just can’t wait to get my trainers on and head out to listen to them. Much like Pavlov’s dogs, there is now a physical response to an audible trigger.

Track or not to track your steps

If you are a competitive person or like to track your activity – sure 10,000 steps is a great daily goal. Especially if this is a motivator for you. But remember, the concept of 10,000 steps per day came from a Japanese company that built a campaign to launch their step-tracker off the momentum of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Recent research has shown that 7,000 could be optimal (as there are not many more health benefits between 7,000 and 10,000 steps). And this research, published in 2019 – specifically for older women (mean age of 72) – put the number down to just 4,000 steps per day.

Regardless of the number of steps, the humble walk delivers many benefits. It is mostly free (investing in some good walking shoes is important), needs no equipment and can be squeezed into any timetable. All these factors mean that it is easy to form a habit of walking. And remember it is not any one walk that will give you benefit – it is the compounding interest of a daily/several times per week – where you reap the rewards.

And as I say to my husband, when he is complaining about how stressed he is feeling: No one ever got back from a walk and said – “Well, that was a waste of time.”

Going for a walk just makes you feel good. I think it is a combination of movement, fresh air and changing visual environment that can put your worries away or in perspective.

So perhaps if you are reading this and find yourself in an activity slump and are thinking you should reactivate your gym membership (or just use it because you are paying for it anyway) for a big change in your life… why not just start with getting some fresh air and discovering your neighbourhood.

Or if you are already in a committed exercise routine, perhaps you can add walking into your timetable. And give it the recognition it deserves as an activity.

And if you are already walking regularly – check out my latest REEL on my best 3 tips on how you can add a bit of spice and variation.

 

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