We hear messages all the time about the importance of increasing our exercise. New workouts, training systems and celebrity quick fixes come out on a regular basis.
I don’t know about you, but even setting out with good intentions, I get confused and overwhelmed by the sheer amount of fitness regimes and latest health advice floating around.
I often start off well. I know I need to increase my aerobic activity…but then I’m also told that as I’m ageing, I need to be aware of a loss of muscle mass, so weight bearing activity is really important…oh, and in order to stay flexible and stress free, I should do yoga or meditation…
Something I’ve come to realise recently is that the best exercise for you is the one you actually do.
This might seem pretty obvious. But I don’t think I’m alone in starting out with enthusiasm on a new exercise routine, only to discover a few days in that it doesn’t work for me. For example, I’ve been practising yoga for almost 20 years and yet when I listen to a podcast telling me that pilates or mindful meditation are great for me, I’ve tried these only to realise that I hate pilates, and far from calming my mind, meditation practices make me more antsy. Yoga, however, allows me to switch off my mind as I move in and out of the poses, as well as working my core strength, balance and flexibility. So basically achieving the same outcomes as pilates and meditation, really.
This brings me on to walking.
I have enjoyed walking for years, especially in the green spaces around my home city. I also commute on foot every week day, so this is something that is easy to fit into my day. So rather than push myself to take up running (which I dislike) I decided to try sticking with what I know I enjoy for once: walking and yoga.
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about how walking can actually be as beneficial as running, as well as helping you to avoid injuries because it is far less intense on your knees. It is also an aerobic exercise (gets the heart pumping faster), and best of all – it’s free!
We have all heard that sitting is said to be the new smoking by health campaigners, so I decided to track how much I was walking every day, particularly to counteract all the sitting I do at work and when blogging and writing at home. My work is pretty sedentary, so I really wanted to create more movement in my days.
Although the amount of daily steps is a bit of a misnomer, I decided it would be good to get some idea of how many steps I was actually taking. I didn’t want to purchase anything, so decided I would simply download a walking tracker/pedometer app to my mobile ‘phone. I was surprised that on some days, this was less than 5,000 steps, even though I had walked to work and back. I also downloaded the NHS Active 10 walking app to track how fast I was walking. The idea is that we should aim to walk briskly for at least 30 minutes per day. I achieved the 30 minutes brisk walking pretty easily just with my daily commute.
Next, I decided to set myself a walking challenge. I did some research on recommended daily steps, and saw that 10,000 would be a good aim but to start with 7,000 was a good benchmark. I decided to go with setting a 7,000 steps goal to begin with, figuring I could extend this to 10,000 later if it went well.
I have to say that my new attitude to fitness has worked really well! Because I have the app on my phone, I often check in the early evenings to see if I have achieved 7,000 steps, and push myself to take extra walks if I’m short. I haven’t reached my goal every single day, but I am getting close more often than not, and some days when I’ve had extra errands to run, I’ve walked closer to 10,000! Combining this with 2 weekly yoga classes has allowed me to stop pushing myself to achieve bigger and better exercise goals, realising that the more I do exercise that I enjoy doing, the less it feels like a chore.
According to the NHS, walking is great to help build stamina, burn excess calories and keep your heart in good shape. It is also a weight bearing exercise, so is great for improving your bone density, essential if you want to keep fit into old age! But one of the greatest benefits of walking can be its contribution to good mental health. I know that for me, if I feel a bit low or have a lot on my mind, I always feel so much better after a walk, particularly if some nature is involved.
In case you are feeling inspired to get up and go for a walk, I’ve put a few simple tips below that have helped me to stick to my steps challenge.
Simple Tips for a Successful Walking Challenge…
Comfortable Footwear You don’t need to have the latest designer trainers, but you do need to have footwear that feels comfortable! You aren’t going to get very far if your shoes give you painful blisters. I prefer Skechers trainers, as they have a good bounce and are comfortable. If you are walking to work like me, you can always take a nicer pair of shoes with you to change into.
Engage Your Ears! I love to listen to Podcasts as I walk, as I feel I can really focus on the discussions and ideas much better whilst I’m moving. But walking is also a great chance to catch up on audio books, if that’s your thing, or of course a great playlist on Spotify! You could even try a language app to make use of your walking time, though you might get some strange glances if you say the words out loud!
Walk Mindfully Having just said the above about engaging your ears, it’s also good to cut off from media and take a walk without any noise at all. This is often when I come up with solutions to problems I’m trying to figure out, or an idea for a blog post or essay topic. When you remove all distractions, you also notice the sounds and colours of the world around you, especially at the moment with springtime in the UK – the blossom trees and greenery look amazing!
Make it Social If you want to try and combine some social interaction with walking, it can be a great way to catch up with a friend. My husband and I started taking an evening walk after dinner during the pandemic lockdown and have carried the habit on to this day. It’s a great time to chat over the day in the fresh evening air. I have to say that it is much nicer walking now in the lighter evenings and warmer weather than winter though!
Track Your Progress Although it doesn’t really matter how many steps you do, it is more about getting out and moving, I have found that having the walking app has pushed me to take extra walks in an effort to meet my own self-imposed daily ‘goal’. It also allows me to see how many miles I’ve covered during the week. Many mobile ‘phones have pedometers built into them and obviously you could go a bit more high tech and invest in a fitness tracker.
If you’re thinking of starting (or continuing) with a walking challenge this spring, I hope these simple tips might inspire you. However, if walking isn’t your thing, I would encourage you to find out what exercise is your thing – as I said at the beginning, the best exercise for you is the one you will actually do!
Happy walking : )