Improve your health with National Walking Month
May is National Walking Month and with everyone being forced into lockdown with our allocated daily outdoor exercise allowance, many of us have taken to walking the area in which we live – even if this is a way to stretch our legs and gain mental perspective and physical distance from our homes. As an avid runner, I have always opted to pound the pavement rather than walk, but during the last six weeks, even I’ve taken to adding in a walking routine several times a week to benefit my mind, body and soul.
THE WONDERS OF WALKING
Let’s begin with the science-y part as to why walking is beneficial for us, as this is not shouted about enough with regards to the physical benefits. Running has long been considered the poster child for aerobic exercise training, yet moderate exercise such as walking is excellent for our health. The physical activity depends on three variables: the intensity, the duration, and the frequency. Because walking is less intensive than running – which is beneficial to our joints – you do need to be out there more often and for longer periods. Walking is an effective way to mix up your regular fitness routine which will help strengthen the muscles in your legs. The cardiovascular benefits of walking – like other forms of regular moderate exercise – helps to fight against the risk factors of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and inflammation.
Aside from the physical benefits, walking is simple with zero instruction or skill required. Have you ever heard someone say that they can’t walk or they are no good at walking? No, neither have I, and yet that’s often the reaction I receive when I tell people I am a runner; it seems to prompt a deep response as to why they hate/can’t/won’t run!
Walking is one of the easiest ways to become more active and maybe you have found during lockdown life this is something you have really come to enjoy. The NHS recommends 150 minutes of weekly exercise, so heading out for a 20 or 30-minute brisk walk at the start of your day, over lunchtime or as you wind down for the evening, is a great way to break up the monotony, create space for your mind and to give your body some nourishing self-care.
The beauty of walking is you can head out in a pair of old trainers or comfy shoes, depending on how far you are going. As you build up the distance you might want to invest in a pair of trainers which support and cushion your feet. Wear whatever you feel comfortable in; there is no need to buy the latest activewear. Although, if an online shopping trip is a motivator for you to get you moving, then why not? We all need a little encouragement!
If you still need motivation, Living Streets charity is running their #Try20 for National Walking Month; the idea is to walk 20 minutes every day as part of your daily exercise and see what benefits you experience. Living Streets’ mission for the past 90 years is to achieve a better walking environment and inspire people to walk more. Their website is full of useful hints and tips to get out walking whilst maintaining social distancing and keeping safe.
We have covered the physical benefits, the skills and kit needed and some of the motivators, but why is walking going to benefit your mental wellbeing? Studies have shown walking as a form of aerobic activity is proven to reduce anxiety and depression, lift negative moods and improve self-esteem and cognitive function. When our bodies are increasingly under stress, sometimes a hard run will have a more detrimental impact than walking which calms down our physiological responses to stress. Think of the phrase we sometimes say to a person who is angry or upset – “go and walk it off”. There is a lot of truth in that. In addition, walking is proven to stimulate the brain’s creative juices; Einstein did a lot of walking and Steve Jobs regularly took walking meetings with his colleagues or collaborators.
Walking can also play into our wider aspects of mental wealth (as I like to call it). Not only are you benefiting both mentally and physically, you can invest much more deeply in your own mental wellbeing across what is known as the five ways of wellbeing. At Team CHAMPS we renamed this as CLEAN.
So, here are my top five tips for keeping CLEAN when out walking whilst maintaining social distancing:
Connect: Take a walking ‘phone’ meeting with a colleague and step away from Zoom fatigue.
Learn: Listen to an audiobook or podcast whilst you stretch your legs or walk to a nearby local area you have not visited before.
Exercise: Obviously, you are already doing the exercise, but spice it up with a power walk to the finish or take some small hand weights to increase the intensity.
Acts of Kindness: I have been loving in London that runners and walkers seem to smile more at each other. We seem to be connecting on another level, so make someone’s day and give them a smile or a head nod. By being mindful and respecting social distancing, we are also being kind to ourselves and to others we encounter on our travels.
Notice: Be more present when you are out walking and get snappy! Take a photograph on your walk and share with someone, or post on your Instagram story – something I have been doing on my runs and walks around London to enable me to stop, breathe and just be.
Remember if you are new to exercise, pregnant, post-natal or have any underlying health conditions, you may need to take extra precautions and seek medical advice before embarking on a new fitness activity and always build up gradually.
Ruth Cooper-Dickson is a Positive Psychology Practitioner and qualified Coach, who has studied Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology. She is the Founder and MD of the global mental wealth people consultancy, CHAMPS, partnering with progressive organisations helping them to ingrain a culture of positive mental wealth. Ruth is a passionate runner, an addicted life-long learner and a lover of all things cake!