May 6, 2022, 11:55 AM
Nicai de Guzman
How often do you hear the advice that walking is good exercise? It’s perhaps everyone’s favourite physical activity. Walking is free, and it is a type of exercise without seeming so. After all, you walk to get from Point A to Point B. When word spread a few years ago that a person must hit 10,000 steps daily to be healthy, everyone suddenly adopted a walking habit, from extra trips to the loo to picking up their own coffee from the corner shop.
It’s great that people realise the potential of walking as a fitness component. However, not everyone has quite understood that a stroll along the shops isn’t as effective as a purposeful trek, especially if you want to lose a stone.
Not every walk is created equal. A 2011 study in the Journal of Women’s Health measured the effects of different walks and concluded as much. While increased walking presented a fair amount of physical activity, a more leisurely pace is less compelling if you are setting yourself up for a specific fitness goal.
Can Walking Help You Lose Weight?
Any aerobic exercise, when done correctly, can help you trim down a few dress sizes. Walking is different from other workouts because it is so much more accessible – and doesn’t require as big of a physical push as running or cycling. According to numerous papers, adding 30 minutes of brisk walking to a routine does not only keep your weight in check, it has other benefits, too. Dr Thomas Frieden, president and chief executive of the Centers for Disease Control, once described it as “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug.”
Harvard Health states that walking 2.5 hours a week (or 21 minutes a day) can reduce the risk of heart disease by 30 per cent and obesity by 5 per cent.
Walking promises a plethora of benefits equal to other exercises, but it also has a social and economic impact. The same Harvard Health article reports that a walking-friendly neighbourhood has lower crime rates and a better economy. In children, a post-dinner stroll also improves communication, limits behaviour problems, and enhances academics.
Walking for exercise
Walking with shopping bags in hand isn’t quite going to cut it – although that is tempting. In BodySlims, a revolutionary weight-loss programme, we’re big believers in the benefits of walking not just as a fitness activity but as a sustainable fitness activity. Here are a few tips so you can reap its rewards, too.
1. Don’t overdo it.
Overdoing is a rookie mistake. You get excited about your potential weight loss. Or perhaps you want to see the effects instantly. But doing too much too fast can run you into the ground – not literally, of course. You might feel injured or demotivated before you see any real results.
2. Take it one step at a time.
While walking seems like a much more manageable endeavour than running or skipping or going to the gym, it still requires some motivation. After all, the couch and the telly are much more attractive sights than an outdoor wander. However, when you can muster just enough energy to put on your runners, that’s already one foot out the door. Everything else will follow.
Check your calendar and find a pattern for the time you’re free most often. It may be as soon as you wake up or just after supper. Accept your walking period as a part of your lifestyle, an indelible square in your schedule. Creating a habit out of it will make your fitness journey much more doable.
3. Check your walk and fix your form
Get your body used to the idea of walking. Ideally, you should fall into your natural walking pattern first. Prepare your muscles for the more serious phase.
If you’re not new to exercise, then you are aware that form is a crucial detail not only in effectiveness but also to avoid injury. When you walk for exercise, you must try to engage as many muscles as possible. Don’t just leave it up to your legs.
We’ll share a step-by-step guide on how to walk properly in the next section…
Step-by-step correct way of walking
Step 1: Use the proper shoes and socks
Getting walking right starts with your shoes. A fashionable pair of runners may look great but offer little to no support. A good pair of well fitting trainers is a must!
Expensive brands with gel technology or shock absorbers may put a dent in your savings, but they are a great investment. This is because gel technology acts as a shock absorber protecting the ankle, knee and hip joints.
Don’t worry if you don’t want to splurge! Another option is buying a pair of insoles in your pharmacy or good sports shops. These provide the same protection but have the added benefit of you being able to slip them into other shoes too.
While none of these things are a perfect protection your chances of developing shin splints is diminished. And shin splints are often a cause of issues for people starting a walking programme. They are not serious but they can cause a disturbance in your day-to-day activities.
The next item is often overlooked but crucial: Socks. Blistering of the feet can vary between a nuisance and a real challenge in terms of severity. Now, while we will assume you have the right fit in trainers (too big or too small will lead to blistering) the next port of call is your socks.
There are specialist socks which are available in good sports shops such as twin skin. These are designed specifically to stop blistering and are two pairs of socks in one.
Before they were around, the old way of doing it was wearing two pairs of socks and at least one of them should be a sports sock which will be a little thicker on the sole than normal socks. You won’t have great protection for your feet from well worn socks so a few pairs of new ankle socks should be the minimum you commit to if you want to reduce your risk of blisters.
Step 2: Follow your natural walking pattern and find areas of improvement
At the start the best thing to do is just follow your natural walking pattern to get the muscles used to moving again.
After a few weeks and when you feel more comfortable walking for an hour you should look to make a few improvements.
Step 3: Straighten your back
The first should be to try straighten your back, this is important and helps prevent back strain and injury and if you can to engage your central core muscles (don’t worry if you can’t )
Step 4: Be aware of where your arms go
It may sound strange but one of the first things you need to be aware of when walking correctly is your arms. You need to get the arms in the correct position and that means bent at the elbows to 90 degrees and the arm never comes out of that position.
The arm should come forward to the hand just below the chin to meet the stride of the opposite leg as this gives:
A. A better workout in terms of cardio vascular workout and thus more calories burnt
B. A workout to the upper chest muscles (pectorals) and the back of your arms (tricep)
C. Better balance which will enable you to gradually increase your speed
D. More protection for your head. Walking is very safe but even the best of us can take a stumble and having your arms in the bent position in front of you provides a natural buffer and head protection.
Step 5: Increase your pace
While all the above will lead to a natural increase in your speed. When you become a competent walker you may want to increase your pace and there are only two ways to do that.
The first is increasing the length of your stride and should be done very gradually. Firstly just become aware of your normal stride pattern, how far you move with each step or stride.
Then focus on trying to go a little further on the stride. These must always be very small changes and you should stick with that new stride until it becomes your new pattern and then you may want to try to increase it again as you improve.
There is a limit to what’s a natural stride for you and you must always stay within your own limits.
Step 6: Check your foot movement
The correct way to walk is “heel to toe”. The heel should always be the first part of the foot to meet the ground, then you should walk through the midpoint of the foot and finally off the toes. And it’s off the toes that you can increase your speed. This triggers your calf muscles and your quad muscles in the front of your thighs and these are your speed muscles.
Although the real heavy work in walking is done through your hamstrings (the big muscles in the back of your upper legs) we don’t increase the speed from there.
If you want to see just how good walking is in losing weight, sign up for BodySlims. We offer two intensive 10-week programmes – consider either one the gateway to transforming your life. Apart from motivational talks and coaching, it provides a workout scheme and diet plan to spark and sustain your fitness goals.
Walking 10,000 steps a day is good because it will keep you moving. However, bear in mind that a pedometer company spread this idea as a marketing tactic in the 1960s. If you truly want to witness the benefits of walking, sign up for BodySlims now. Our April slots are already selling out. You deserve a better, fitter life.