benefits of walking

A Beginner’s Guide to Walking

A friend of mine recently complained that the quality of jeans had lately declined. “They have a tendency to shrink over time,” she said. “They fit tighter and it’s getting difficult to button them up.”

Do you have the same problem?

Deep inside you realize it’s not the jeans, your shape became curvier. And you also notice the shortness of breath you have after walking up just one flight of stairs. It’s obvious you need to exercise. Buying a gym membership isn’t a bad idea but how can you fit that into your already busy schedule? That would be tough.

Let’s be honest, you are just looking for an excuse, right? And I understand why. You pay your gym fees and feel obligated to go, and we generally don’t like obligations. You will likely miss a day or two once in a while, and then have a week-long gap because of that dreaded project deadline. Besides, if you are really out of shape, working out in the gym might be a bit intimidating to you. You might feel inferior to those confident, buff gym junkies, and soon will stop showing up. That will relieve the pressure and discomfort (which we human beings are always looking for, aren’t we?) but, at the same time, you will get frustrated and disappointed with yourself.

While all these problems can be figured out, there is a much easier way to start getting fit—good old WALKING. While working out, running or playing sports might not be for you, walking is a perfect exercise for everybody.

You already do it every day, don’t you? But the thing is you don’t do it enough. It’s recommended that people walk 10,000 steps a day. On average, Americans walk 4K-5K steps a day. And the usual route is the walk to the car, to the desk, to the grocery store (once or twice a week) back to the car and back to His Majesty, THE COUCH.

Walking daily is one of the easiest physical activities you can do to improve your health. You can literally do it right now. I CHALLENGE YOU TO GO FOR A SHORT WALK AFTER YOU FINISH READING THIS ARTICLE. If you decide to do it this very second, without reading to the end, I won’t get mad at you, I promise.

Walking doesn’t require preparation, special equipment, a budget or to be in a good health condition. It has a long list of incredible benefits:

It reduces stress. When you are irritated or upset, go for a walk. You will come back calm and refreshed. How does it work? Exercising, walking in our case, promotes production neurohormones that are associated with improved cognitive functions and elevated mood. Raising the heart rate reverses damage to the brain caused by potentially stressful situations.

Clear thinking. For many of us holding a 9-5 cubicle job, mornings are usually quite stressful. Walking during lunch, and in the evening, after a long, tiring day, can help you sort things out in your mind.

Walking can help ward off dementia. The hippocampus and prefrontal cortex in our brain are crucial to memory formation and complex thinking, and their decline can be a predictor of Alzheimer’s disease. Interestingly enough, as researchers at the University of Pittsburgh discovered, these are the very areas responsive to physical exercise. The higher intensity of workouts correlate with growth of both the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex. This finding means that exercise can help us prevent a cognitive decline.

Emotional balance. If you want to relax and tune out of all the chatter, walking is the tool for doing that. Pay attention to the trees and flowers you see on your walk, the chirping of the birds and aromas in the air.

It tightens your muscles, including glutes that are in danger of being atrophied if you are a “desk jockey” (simple English: sitting on your butt too much).

It is less stressful on your joints and is perfect for beginners or people with arthritis or osteoporosis because it is a low-impact exercise. A workout is considered low-impact if at least one of your feet remains on the ground at all times. It strengthens your bones. Walking prevents osteoporosis. UCSF research shows that people who walk on a regular basis have healthier knees.

It reduces pain. My dad, who advocates taking long walks, has a knee problem. Every time he had pain, he would walk even more. It seemed counter-intuitive to me. You would want to be careful in those situations, right? Well, Australian researchers found that walking reduces pain in people with osteoarthritis.

3 GREAT ADVANTAGES OF WALKING:

1. It doesn’t require equipment. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes. Don’t go crazy, though. It doesn’t have to be a huge investment.

2. It doesn’t require a specific location. You can walk ANYWHERE: in your neighborhood, in the woods, on the beach, in the city, you can continue the list. If you are on a business trip, not only can walking serve as a workout, but also as sightseeing.

3. IT IS FREE.

For those of you who shamelessly consider walking a boring exercise, I advise that you pair it up with a few activities to enjoy additional benefits.

Listen to audiobooks while walking. http://www.openculture.com/freeaudiobooks is a great source. I personally would choose a physical book over any other version—there is nothing like holding a real book in your hands and flipping the pages—but, considering the often crazy pace of life and a lack of time, an audiobook is much better than no book. But don’t replace reading, deal?

Listen to podcasts. This is one of the best forms of education you can ever get, and it is one of my favorites. Download podcasts to your iPod and listen to them whenever you have time. I listen to podcasts when I drive or clean the house—it makes these chores, especially cleaning (hate it!), less depressing.

Learn a new language. Don’t we complain we have no time for that? You can learn dozen of new words and phrases during your walk. https://www.duolingo.com/.

Practice your photography. You can take lots of amazing pictures regardless of the location of your walk. You don’t need your bulky camera, a cell phone is enough, unless you are a professional photographer.

HOW TO START WALKING EVERY DAY.

Well, going outside for a short walk is easy, right? But how to develop it into a habit? Your success will depend on a few things:

Start with a small goal. Walk 15 min a day. Too much? OK, do 10min. Too difficult? If you are completely out of shape, or obese (that’s fine, I still like you), walk 5min a day, but do it daily for a week. Double the time the following week. Difficult? Do small increments, nobody cares how slow you’ll increase your walking distance. You are not in a competition. No pressure. JUST DO IT.

Find a partner who will keep you accountable, encourage you to stick to your plan. It will actually be a mutual thing, you will support him/her as well, which, in my opinion, is a pleasant feeling. It might be a family member, a friend, a neighbor, a PTA parent or someone from your church.

Change your route occasionally. If there is a park, a river, a pond or trail close to your house, alternate your route location to make walking more fun.

Invest in a good pair of walking shoes. Don’t go overboard or turn it into a week-long research to find the best one on the market to start walking. If you do that, you are just procrastinating. In the beginning, you can walk in your most comfortable shoes, and keep looking and shopping around for a better pair if you want to, but don’t put off your daily walk. Steve Kamb walks in Vibrams. They seem very comfortable and I am thinking of buying a pair for myself.

Challenge yourself to stick to your walking routine for 30 days. Mark each day in the calendar, or keep your daily log, or journal about it. Better yet, start a blog. Why not? Share your daily experiences, challenges, photos for that matter. There are lots of people who do that. You might get loyal readers and have a great opportunity to inspire others.

Join your local walking or hiking group. You can find it at: www.meetup.com. You will become a part of community of people who will encourage and help you. By doing so, you are going to kill more than two birds with one stone: you will exercise, meet new people and make new friends, and have lots of fun.

Reward yourself. Reward is a powerful strategy in developing a new habit. At the end of the week, when you successfully met your goal, treat yourself to something you like (junk food is not an option, there must be something else you like, think hard). Buy yourself a book; go to a movie or a spa.

Positive affirmations. The direct connection between mind and body has long since been proven and this subject is not arguable anymore. You must have heard this: “Change your thoughts; change your life.” When the mind thinks healthy thoughts, the body finds it easier to be healthy. Using positive affirmations is a powerful way of creating healthy habits:

I WALK EVERY DAY TO KEEP MYSELF FIT AND HEALTHY

TODAY IS THE BEST DAY FOR A WALK

I AM FILLED WITH ENERGY TO DO EVERYTHING THAT MAKES ME HEALTHY

Drink enough water. You have to drink water before and after your walk. In hot weather or when on a hike, drink it while you walk.

Warming up before walking is a must. Unfortunately, this step is often ignored. By warming up, which is exercising at a low intensity, you get your blood circulating, preparing your body for exercise. This will prevent injuries. Do easy movements, such as ankle circles, leg swings and pelvic loops for 5 minutes.

TAKE IT UP A NOTCH

Add weighted ankle or wrist straps to make walking a little more challenging.

These weights securely strap around the ankles and provide more intensity and resistance. Ankle weights help with faster weight loss by burning 5 to 15 percent more calories than walking without weights.

There are several types of ankle weights with various poundage. The American Council on Exercise recommends that you limit the weight amounts to 3 lbs. If you have joint pain, check with your doctor before you begin using ankle weights.

Walking is a very simple, low impact exercise with endless benefits. Don’t spend days shopping for the best walking shoes, pedometer, methods to measure your progress and mapping out the route. JUST START. NOW. The rest you will figure out later.

Don’t forget to set your daily, weekly and monthly goals. For example:

Week 1 walk 10 min each day

Week 2 walk 15 min each day

Week 3 walk 25 min each day

Set your goals at any number you are comfortable with. The main goal is to MAKE WALKING A HABIT.


Anna Ayrapetyan 
 is a happy mother of two, a wife and a blogger who is passionate about healthy lifestyle. In her younger years, she overcame a serious digestive disorder by changing her diet and using natural treatments. Anna started her blog www.leanhappiness.com with a goal to help people achieve health by altering their eating habits, eliminating processed foods and cooking healthy, nutritious meals.