Walking might not be the sexiest item on your exercise calendar, but it could be the most important.
Story: Carolee Belkin Walker
Even if you run or swim or cycle or practice yoga, the physical and mental benefits of regular walking are well documented. Walking is especially beneficial if you’re recovering from an illness or injury or suffer from joint pain or depression,
So, how do you get yourself off your chair and out for a walk?
Here are some tips.
Take a personality test
If you’re an extrovert and have a high tolerance for external stimulation, you’ll stick to a walking routine if there’s a social or exciting aspect to it, such as walking with a group or choosing a busy and crowded trail or street for your daily stroll. If you’re low in motivation and self-control, like many of us, you’ll need a really big “why” to get yourself to go for a walk. Writing out a list of reasons for walking and posting it on your fridge door could help.
Get a walking stick
Whether you’ve got balance issues, trip easily, or want to alleviate pressure on your joints, lightweight and sporty walking sticks, canes, and poles offer stability and security on trails and sidewalks. Sporting goods stores and specialty retailers stock the latest trends in walking sticks, including poles designed for people suffering from arthritis in their hands. You can also sign up for classes on how to use the poles safely for trekking on trails at some senior centers and sporting goods stores.
You are what you wear
Of course, I’m talking about clothing and shoes, but it’s so much more fun to think about your walking outfits as “gear.” The key is selecting well-fitted items made from high-tech fabrics that are comfortable and stretchy and make you feel sporty. Yes, function is important as you want to wear fabrics that keep you cool in hot weather and warm in cold weather, but the good news is the latest exercise gear does it all. While you can spend a lot of money on excellent name-brand items, search for the great deals in bulk stores or outlet malls. Depending on your pace, experiment with how much to wear while walking, focusing on layers you can remove as you heat up and put back on when you’ve cooled off. Put your gear out before you go to sleep, so you see it when your alarm goes off. Keep a bag with walking gear in your car in case you find yourself in a pretty spot with time on your hands.
You’re probably taking your phone with you when you go for a walk, so load it with a fitness app. They’re great for keeping track of exercise and sharing stats with friends can give you that extra push when you’re feeling lazy. My favorite is Under Armour’s MapMyFitness. In the free version, you track your walk in real time and even set a goal at, say, two miles, so you know when to turn around and head back. The VIP version, which costs $5.99 per month, includes audio coaching, which is helpful if you tuck your phone away while you’re walking and prefer someone telling you how far you’ve walked. The audio coaching works even if you’re listening to music, a podcast, or talking on the phone. The live tracking works indoors if you’re walking in a shopping mall or down the aisles of the grocery store. If you’re walking on a treadmill, you must log the walk for it to be included in the feed you share with friends.
Going for a walk with friends is perfect for socializing, especially if you’re an extrovert. However, there are times you’ll want to leave your chair at lunchtime or pop out of bed in the morning and catch up on music, news, podcasts, and audiobooks. Research supports the idea that when you’re walking there’s enough activity in your brain to keep it semi-activated, leaving plenty of cognitive space available to learn something new or get creative. Many apps have features that let you listen to podcasts or audiobooks at a faster or slower speed, depending on your preference. The key is to stay aware of your surroundings. Some people use only one ear bud when they’re walking so they can still hear ambient noise, and you might want to look for headphones designed so that you can still hear what’s going on around you while you’re plugged in.