Walking: 3 Expert Tips to Get the Most Out of Each Step

Walking

As the stress of isolation weighs on all of us, there's a surefire stress-buster that you can employ that's right under your feet: walking. Photo: Bogdanhoda/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Walk away stress. That’s right. That daily lockdown walk is doing more for us than just boosting our step count. Walking is one of the best stress-busting exercises, and one reason is that, for most of us, there’s no gym required. And all you need is a good pair of walking shoes.

When it comes to any stressful time in our lives, it is important to take care of your physical health as much as your mental health. So, take a walk for both.

“Focus on eating right, daily exercise and getting enough sleep,” says Louisa Jewell, author of Wire Your Brain for Confidence: The Science of Conquering Self-Doubt and founder of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association.

“Many people do not realize the importance of nurturing physical health to stay psychologically happy during stressful times.”

That said, strollers take note: walking faster could add years to your life. According to a study published in 2019 by Mayo Clinic Proceedings, people who habitually walk fast can add, on average, 15 to 20 years to their lives. The U.K.-based study included almost 475,000 people with an average age of 58.

For women, being a fast walker increased life expectancy as much as 15 years: from 64.8 to 87.8. And the impact for men was even greater, with life expectancy increasing from 64.8 to 86.8 years.

And the life-extending benefit from walking fast (participants self-defined their pace as either slow, steady/average or brisk) was seen regardless of one’s weight — from underweight to morbidly obese.

Here, three easy trainer-approved tips for amplifying the effectiveness of your walk.

Get Outside

Walking on grass or earth with its natural variations gives your legs more of a workout than hard surfaces like sidewalks and subtly challenges your balance, which tends to deteriorate with age. Studies also show that being in nature can help boost your mood.

Take Smaller, Quicker Steps

Speed up by taking smaller, more frequent steps. You don’t have to sprint but you do need to step with purpose during your walk. Pretend you’re running late. Walk like you’re on a mission. If you’re walking at the proper pace, you should find talking difficult but not impossible.

Move Your Arms

You can really rev up the intensity by moving your arms. Bend your arms and naturally swing them forward and back. Avoid a side-to-side motion across your body. Keep your hands loose and relaxed. And don’t clench your fists.

These simple adjustments will make a big difference to your fitness walking. Try to go faster and farther, and add a few hills to your walk. Always stretch your muscles before and after walking to avoid cramps and strains. And as always, check with your doctor before starting this or any fitness program.

Once you’ve done your body good and have gotten your steps in, try these two tips from Louisa Jewell for your spirit, as well.

Practise Gratitude

Studies have shown that practising gratitude can improve sleep, boost well-being and happiness, enhance relationships and, reduce depression and anxiety. Research has also shown positive effects on cardiovascular health. The practise can be as simple as writing down what you are grateful for once a week or writing down three things you are thankful for each day. When we navigate our day with the lens of what we are grateful for, rather than what we are missing in our lives, we train our brains to stay focused on the positive aspects of our daily experience.

Push Through Depression

When we are too focused on our own suffering, we can become even more depressed and feel worse about our situation. Studies show that one of the best ways to bring joy into our lives is to show kindness to someone else. Get involved with a charitable organization that is meaningful for you. Do you love to garden? Grow vegetables and donate them. Do you love to knit? Knit booties for mothers and babies in shelters. Getting involved in your community does two things: gets you socializing with others and makes you feel good about giving back to those in need. “Every year, I play Mrs. Santa Claus for the Red Door Homeless Shelter Christmas party,” says Jewell. “It is a wonderful feeling to give back but it also reminds me of how grateful I am for everything I have in my life.”

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