Me at Mt. Maxwell, Salt Spring Island
My hike up Mt. Maxwell, Salt Spring Island

“An early morning walk is a blessing for the whole day.”

Thoreau 


My client and friend Annie is an avid walker. She averages 40-60 minutes at a time, strides with a brisk pace and prefers forested areas over city streets. She’s slim and fit, never seems to get sick, and appears to be healthier than many of her peers, even her teenaged children. Annie walks nearly every day, rain or shine, and credits her energy and strong immune system to her daily hike in the woods (and, of course, to the Hatha Yoga class I teach Annie and her friends twice a week!).
Walkers and runners expend roughly the same amount of energy per kilometre; it just takes walkers longer to do it
Annie (right) and her friend Elaine
Annie (right) and her friend Elaine

It might surprise you to learn that walking can be a very effective cardiovascular exercise. In fact, walking provides the same health benefits as running: reduced risk of hypertension, heart disease and diabetes, increased bone density, and weight control. While running appears to be a better bet for those of us looking to shed a few pounds, it tends to put more strain on the body’s muscles, tendons and joints.

 Walking has spiritual, mental and emotional benefits, too. Many of the world’s greatest thinkers walked: Beethoven, Nietzsche, Dickens and Aristotle all walked daily. An outdoor hike in the woods can clear the mind of clutter and increase your attention span. There’s also the very real interaction between the chemicals emitted by trees and plants and our lungs as we breathe them in.


So, what’s the key to effective cardio by walking? Simple — the three F’s!

canstockphoto8559663The Three F’s

Far

canstockphoto23413052Walkers and runners expend roughly the same amount of energy per kilometre, it just takes walkers longer to do it. Regular long distance walking can build your strength and stamina, along with firing up your metabolism.

Fast

canstockphoto23413052People who walk faster will gain more health benefits than those who stroll. I advise my clients to use the talk test when walking: if you can talk while walking with ease, pick up your pace. You should be able to have a conversation – but with some effort. (By the way, if you can text while doing it, it’s not exercise.) Fear not, slowpokes: interval training can be applied to walking, too. Try the method suggested here in NYT’s Well blog.

Frequent

canstockphoto23413052Canadian health and fitness guidelines recommend adults get a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous cardiovascular exercise per week, in bouts of at least 10 minutes at a time. That’s a measly 20 minutes per day. Strapped for time? Try a ten-minute brisk walk twice to three times a day. You’ll feel better immediately – especially if it means you can escape your office for a while.

Bonus: Another F!

Here’s another F to consider: form. How’s yours? Here are a few tips to make your walk wonderful.

IMG_2253
Lynn Loop Trail, one of my favourite places to walk
  • Keep your head up, and ears above your shoulders
  • Relax your neck and shoulders
  • Let your arms swing a little
  • Keep your stomach muscles gently engaged and your back neutral — not arched or rounded
  • Your gait should be smooth, rolling from heel to toe
  • Wear the right shoes. Save your flip flops for the beach, your high heels for the nightclub
  • Warm up and cool down, just like any other cardiovascular exercise, and stretch afterward

If you’re new to walking, start slow and small, gradually increase your time and pace, and let the wellness begin!


What’s your favourite place to walk? Got a tip to share with other readers? Have your say in the comment section below, or get in touch privately. I’d love to hear from you!

 

Walk This Way: Three F’s For Better Health Walking to Improve Your Health, Step by Step" >