‘Tis the season to take a stroll! Everyone loves a good walk, particularly at this time of the year to burn off a festive feast! Our inspirational guide will help you get the most from any outing on foot.
‘Tis the season to take a stroll! A brisk walk on a cold day over the festive season, usually Boxing Day, is a bit of a tradition for many, helping you digest all that turkey and chocolate. Yet you may not realise what a valuable form of exercise it is and therefore not be making the most of it. Once the New Year rolls around, thoughts of getting fit or fitter will invariably lead to a stampede of folks heading to the warmth of high street gyms – that Boxing Day walk and the thought of exercising outside during winter all but forgotten.
But, exercising in the great outdoors has been shown to have more significant benefits than indoor workouts – exercising in natural environments is associated with greater feelings of revitalisation and positive engagement, decreases in tension and increased energy. As well as emotional benefits, there are myriad physical benefits too. Walking improves heart health, increases aerobic capacity and improves body composition. Add in improved bone health due to the load-bearing nature of walking, which combats osteoporosis, and walking is an all-round wellbeing panacea!
For an everyday walking workout, an out-and-back route is ideal from where you live or work. And a good pace would be around 5km per hour (note: for longer walks, your speed will usually be slower).
To find routes near you, try an app such Viewranger. You can see which routes are available in your area, and even worldwide, download them and track of your distance and time. You can also track your route with Strava and Runkeeper.
‘There’s a great deal of online information about walking routes. Ignore any suggestions that don’t give detail and look for walk descriptions that include photos and describe hazards or points of interest,’ suggest Lucy Atkins. For more off-the-beaten-track walks, you need to be properly kitted out, and ideally have someone with you who really knows the area.
Use your common sense when it comes to weather conditions and when walking for longer and further afield. If the weather looks like it’s going to be a challenge, change your route. Even when walking locally, it’s a good idea to tell friends and family where you’re going and your approximate return time. Some apps even enable you to be tracked in real time.
When walking at night, wear clothing that makes you visible to motorists. Using a head torch is an option if you’re walking in dimly lit areas. And there are also alarms you can carry for added safety, too. Another idea is to walk with others, so why not join a walking group? Search the web for organisations in your area at ramblers.org.uk.
Set a challenge
As with any fitness programme, it’s best to vary your walks in terms of length, intensity and degree of difficulty if you want to continually improve your fitness.
Personal trainer Rachel Dench suggests performing walking hill reps to really ramp up your aerobic fitness. ‘The first time you do this, start with a gentle incline and increase the gradient as your fitness improves,’ she says. ‘Choose a hill and walk up and down it 10 times. Aim for your ascent to take about two minutes (two minutes approx. 200-250m).’ The uphills will really target muscles in your hamstrings and your bottom, too.
Walking, like any continuous activity you become engrossed in, can trigger changes in your brain that lead to a state of flow. And walking through a beautiful landscape – especially at this time of year when the low sun can cause any frost or snow to glisten on the trees and bushes – is a great way to calm your mind. Those bright, blue-sky days when the air is crisp and your breath billows in front of you are a sure-fire way to feel good. Even if you walk around your local neighbourhood, you’ll be surprised by what you see when you really look. At this time of year, there’s so much to take in, including festive decorations adorning people’s gardens, beautiful spider webs covered in dew, and stems of holly poking through the trees.
Perfect your technique
Personal trainer Caroline Sandry has the following tips for maximising your walking fitness:
- Walk as tall as you can – stretch the crown of your head toward the sky, draw your shoulders back and down and walk proud.
- Imagine the world is a huge treadmill and you are using your legs to drive it backwards underneath you as you walk.
- Keep your belly button gently pulled in as you walk. Doing this is a subtle way to strengthen your core and improve posture.