Walking: the new ‘superfood’ of exercise

From the time we’re just mere months old, we’re eager to get onto our feet and to move… and with good reason. Walking can help increase our fitness and keep us healthy; provides us with an ideal mode of transportation; helps us connect with nature; and offers simple enjoyment. As we practice social isolation and physical distancing, many Canadians have re-discovered walking, and some are enjoying it so much, that they’re pledging to make it part of their lives for good. They’re making a smart choice: walking more is likely the single best thing most Canadians can do to improve their health.

Exercise is medicine:
Walking lowers or reduces the risk of many health conditions, including: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and breast and colon cancers. Walking also improves muscle tone in the lower body and uses up calories (a 45-minute walk burns approx. 270 calories, based on a 150 lb woman). Walking is a safe, low-impact and easy way to take steps towards the physical activity you need each day.

Pick up the pace:
I encourage brisk walking, or periods of moderate pace walking, alternating with periods of higher intensity walking, jogging, running, or skipping to get the heart pumping more vigorously. I also encourage walkers to keep tabs on the intensity of their walking workouts using the easy “talk test” method. Simply put, if you can string together six to eight words in one breath while walking, you’re likely in your aerobic training zone. If you can speak more words than that, you’re likely not working out hard enough. If you find yourself gasping for air and struggling to get more than a word or two out, it’s time to reduce your pace.

Let’s talk technique:
Watch your stride length: To help avoid injury, focus on shorter, quicker steps instead of lengthening your stride.

Challenge yourself: If you’re already a fitness walker, challenge yourself with greater distances, hills, and uneven terrain. Want to increase the value of your walking workout further still?

1 – Alternate periods of walking with higher intensity intervals such as jumping rope, jumping jacks, or running.

2 – Walking an uneven trail for a balance challenge will burn 82 percent more calories while providing a change of scene from city streets.

3 – Use an app or even a simple pedometer to count your steps and track your distance. Strive for at least 10,000 steps (or about eight kilometres) per day.

4 – Use Nordic poles to get upper body muscles involved. In fact, Nordic walking, done properly, requires the use of over 90% of the muscles in the body.

Proper form and technique will ensure a better workout while reducing the odds of injury. Remember to stand tall and think about your alignment: ears over your shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over knees and knees over feet. Try to keep your shoulders and hips relaxed and loose. Let your arms move with your steps, and keep them bent at a 90-degree angle without tensing upper back and shoulder muscles.

Need a little motivation?

1 – Keep a journal and record your workouts and progress.
2 – Wear a pedometer and track the number of steps you take each day.
3 – Walk with friends, family, or colleagues for company and support.
4 – Sign up for a charity walk, work towards your goal, and hold yourself accountable.
5 – Listen to a favorite playlist.
6 – Reward your progress.
8 – Be a role model and help others work towards their healthy lifestyle goals.
9 – Remind yourself how far you’ve come.

Eight ways a daily walk will improve your health

When it comes to physical activity, don’t undervalue the incredible health benefits of a daily walk. Research tells us that there are health benefits to exercise — even periods as short as a few minutes. It also reveals that these benefits are increased when we get moving outdoors. You don’t need a gym membership or the latest in gizmos and gadgets to improve your physical and mental fitness, you just need some comfy shoes and the determination to make it happen.

Here are just a few of the benefits of a daily walk:

  1. You’ll boost your spirits: There’s no need to pound away stress: a brisk daily walk will do the trick! It turns out that exercise is so beneficial for our mental health, that it’s considered as effective in treating anxiety and mild to moderate depression as many medications — and without the side effects.
  2. You’ll reduce your risk of diabetes: Walking can lower your blood sugar levels as well as your overall risk for diabetes.
  3. Improved blood pressure: Researchers at the University of Boulder Colorado and the University of Tennessee determined  regular walking reduced blood pressure by as much as 11 points and may in fact reduce the risk of stroke by 20 percent to 40 percent.
  4. Longevity: Mounting evidence suggests walking can reduce your risk of mortality. A study using data from over 334,000 people in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer Nutrition (EPIC) concludes that adding just a 20-minute daily walk to an otherwise sedentary lifestyle, reduces the risk of death by 7 percent.
  5. Weight management: While many experts suggest weight loss is more effectively accomplished by way of a healthy diet and responsible caloric intake, exercise helps torch extra calories and can rev up metabolism so that we burn even more calories even while at rest.  Exercise is also an effective tool in helping us to maintain a healthy weight throughout life — and yes, walking counts!
  6. Stronger bones: Bone density is built in part through weight-bearing exercise like walking, and strong bones can help prevent osteoporosis and the related fractures commonly seen in older adults. Each time you lace up your running shoes or venture outdoors for a brisk walk, remind yourself of the incredible benefits of exercise.
  7. A healthier heart: A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that people who walk at least five times a week for 30 minutes or more had a 30 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared with those who did not walk on a regular basis. Need we say more? Click here to learn more about reducing your risk of heart disease.
  8. Creativity: Numerous studies link walking with improved creativity and ideation and helping to reduce or eliminate brain fog. Don’t be surprised if on a walk you find yourself full of good ideas, creative solutions, new approaches, and the energy to put them to work.

Build your resilience in 10 steps

We all face trauma, adversity and other stresses throughout our lives. There are ways however, that can help us adapt to life-altering situations and emerge even stronger than before. Resilience is an “inner strength” that helps us bounce back from stressful situations such as setbacks and difficult events in our lives, including illness.

Developing resilience begins with simple actions or thoughts that can be practiced, including what you’ll do next and learning to accept change. There are many aspects of your life you can control, but by becoming more resilient, you’ll be better equipped to cope with those you can’t.

Being resilient doesn’t mean that you find it easy to deal with difficult or stressful situations or that you won’t feel angry, sad, or worried during tough times. But it does mean that you won’t feel as overwhelmed and that you’ll be more likely to cope with stressful situations in healthy ways.

Here are 10 ways to build resilience:

  1. Change the narrative: When something bad happens, we often relive the event over and over in our heads, rehashing the pain. This process is called rumination. To ease up on rumination, try letting go of what you cannot control; schedule a worry break; try practicing mindfulness; identify your worst-case scenario and ask yourself if you can handle it; get some exercise.
  2. Face your fears: Fear and anxiety are like kidnappers holding you captive, and away from the full life you could be living. For tips on facing your fears, click here.
  3. Build connections: Connecting with empathetic and understanding people can remind us that we’re not alone. Build your relationships with family, friends, colleagues and groups in your community.
  4. Practice self-compassion: Fears and adversity can make us feel alone and leave us asking what is wrong with us. In these situations, practicing self-compassion—and knowing that everyone suffers—can be helpful. Practicing self compassion involves confronting our own suffering with an attitude of kindness and without judgment. Give yourself permission to be less than perfect; remind yourself that you are not alone; practice mindfulness; and practice self care.
  5. Meditate: Our most painful thoughts are usually about the past or the future. Practicing mindfulness brings us more and more into the present, and it offers techniques for dealing with negative emotions when they arise.
  6. Cultivate forgiveness: If holding a grudge is holding you back, research suggests that cultivating forgiveness could be beneficial to your mental and physical health.
  7. Take care of your body. Self-care is a legitimate practice for mental health and building resilience. That’s because stress is just as much physical as it is emotional. Promoting positive lifestyle factors like ample sleep, good nutrition, and daily exercise will help your body to adapt to stress and reduce the burden of anxiety or depression. Here are 15 healthy lifelong habits.
  8. Practice mindfulness. Mindful journaling, yoga, and other spiritual practices like meditation can also help people build connections and find hope. I like to start and end each day with gratitude.
  9. Help others. When you volunteer or extend help to others, you can garner a sense of purpose, foster self-worth, connect with other people and foster resilience.
  10. Embrace healthy thoughts. a) Keep things in perspective. How you think can play a significant part in how you feel — and how resilient you are when faced with obstacles. Try to identify areas of irrational thinking, such as a tendency to catastrophize difficulties. b) Accept change… it’s part of life. Certain goals or ideals may no longer be realistic and accepting this will help you move on to new goals and things you can alter. c) Maintain a hopeful outlook. It’s hard to be positive when life isn’t going your way, but an optimistic outlook empowers and opens you to expect good things that will come. d) Learn from your past. By looking back at who or what was helpful in previous times of distress, you may be able to alter how you respond to new difficult situations.