Walk this way...
Let’s face facts – lockdown walks were more appealing in summer. However, with a few tips and tricks, this simple exercise can boost mood, increase fitness and, yes, even be fun when it’s cold outside, says Lizzie Catt
While the first lockdown saw the nation discover local routes and corners of the countryside, winter weather has made the prospect of revisiting those lovely paths somewhat less appealing. But with gyms and exercise classes shut indefinitely, walking is an easy and free way to get some exercise and fresh air.
Exercise physiologist Tom Cowan (tcowan.co.uk) is a big advocate of walking for mental and physical health. A brisk walk, he explains, raises the heart rate and provides a strenuous enough aerobic workout to improve cardiovascular fitness in most adults.
If you can hold a conversation but don’t have enough puff to be able to sing the words to a song, you’re walking at the correct pace.
When done correctly, walking reduces the risk of developing numerous health conditions, says Tom, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke and coronary heart disease. And because walking is low impact, it’s easy on the joints but will still improve bone density.
Start and end with a five to 10 minute warm up/cool down and stretch. Also, check in with your GP before starting a new routine.
Get in the swing
It is tempting to shove your hands into pockets when it’s cold, but Tom recommends swinging your arms. This technique is used by power walkers to increase speed and brings more muscle groups into play, increasing heart rate and with it the chance of breaking a sweat. Use intervals – fast walking mixed with slower periods – to improve your speed until you no longer need the recovery intervals.
Pick one route and time yourself, then revisit it over the weeks and aim to slowly knock time off as your fitness improves.
Lots of us wanted to learn new skills, get fit and read more during lockdown – so why not do it all at the same time?
“I used walking as a chance to listen to audiobooks and in the first lockdown, I listened to Spanish lessons on Spotify,” says Tom. “I also make calls to family and friends, which benefits my psychological health as well.”
Step it up
Tom recommends those pressed for time to increase their step count by incorporating walking into their working day by taking calls on the move. Requesting a phone-only meeting and getting outside could make a big difference to your daily step count.
Six legs better than two
Dog owners already know that daily walks are not optional. “If you don’t have a dog, you could walk a friend’s dog or walk together, or visit a dog-walking website like borrowmydoggy.com,” says Tom.
The RSPCA and local dog rescue centres both run dog-walking programmes, too.
Setting up a walking challenge with friends or colleagues is great motivation. If you have a mixed ability group, set a team step goal or sign up for a charity walk.
Lots of charities are asking people to fundraise with individual walks and runs during the pandemic. Just don’t push yourself too hard to keep up, and ensure your targets are realistic, says Tom.
Nordic walking poles are popular with walkers in the countryside and have been cropping up on the streets of towns and cities with good reason.
Walking with poles engages the muscles of the upper body and transforms walking into a wholebody exercise with benefits more akin to jogging. This can help anyone who’s uncomfortable running or has been advised not to due to weight, joint issues or age.
Walking can help you to combat high blood pressure and coronary heart disease
Worth the weight
Weighted backpacks are also growing in popularity with those wanting to get the most out of their walk, says Tom. Pile some books into a comfortable backpack but make sure it fits properly so you don’t injure yourself. Or try walking while holding light hand weights to give yourself a challenge.
Meeting up for exercise with one person is permitted under current guidelines and can make a real difference, says Tom. It will make your walk feel like an event instead of another chore and give you much-needed social interaction.
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