Take a hike: 5 steps to reaping the benefits of walking

An easy path to stress relief, fitness and more

When NAIT Personal Fitness Trainer instructor Dr. Kenneth Riess’s students are feeling stressed, he tells them to go for a walk.

“The momentary stress relief people experience while walking is a great way to give your mind a break so you can return to whatever task you're undertaking with a clearer frame of mind.”

But de-stressing is only one of many benefits of this simple exercise, he points out.

Most obviously, there are the cardiovascular effects, says Riess (Marketing ’91), who specializes in clinical exercise. An improvement in fitness can lead to lower incidences of chronic diseases that are often a side effect of inactivity.

“The stress relief people experience while walking is a great way to give your mind a break.”

“Conditions like Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension and coronary artery disease, can all be attributed to inactivity,” he says.

Walking is also an excellent low-impact activity. While that impact is enough to help build bone mineral density, which helps improve bone and spine strength, it is light enough that the risk of fractures is low.

But one of the best features of the activity is how easy it is. All you need are a pair of good shoes and a decent path. If you like, you can even add a friend to the mix to ward off that sense of pandemic isolation. Walkers can carry on a conversation while they go and still get a workout. Here are Riess’s tips for incorporating a walk into your daily routine.

1. Schedule it

smartphone calendar

Make a walk a non-negotiable part of your daily routine. Riess says this is a great tactic for students and working professionals as it enables them to carve out time in their calendars and set reminders to get up and get active.

2. Focus on the first two minutes

starting a treadmillRiess says to just get your shoes and clothes on and open the door or get in front of a treadmill. “If people can get through the first two minutes and to the point where they can start their walk, they generally go through with the exercise as the hardest part is already complete.”

“If people can get through the first two minutes … they generally go through with the exercise.”

3. Lace up

running shoesWhile shoes are simple enough, if you intend to stick with walking, Riess says you may want to invest in a pair of walking or running shoes. These offer a better fit, some cushioning and can even control the motion of your feet to reduce the risk of overuse injury. Consulting an expert at a specialty footwear store may be your best bet to get the best shoe for you.

4. Dress for the weather

woman wearing a rain jacketWalking is an all-season activity. While people may be more inclined to walk in warmer temperatures, Riess notes that there are added benefits during the winter months, when balance skills are tested and improved. He suggests additional footwear support such as shoe spikes for better traction. If balance is an issue, as it can be for elderly people, Riess notes that it’s safer to walk indoors during the winter.

5. Be patient

climbing stairsWhen you first start out, Riess says it’s best to keep it simple. “In the beginning, you will immediately reap the cardiovascular and risk reduction benefits of walking, so try not to focus on speed and intensity. Low to medium intensity is great.” Add more time to your walk and increase intensity as you progress.

“In the beginning … low to medium intensity is great.”

Don’t forget the mental health benefits

woman breathing

If the prospect of the physical benefits isn’t enough to get you out the door, Riess suggests using the mental health benefits as motivation. “Especially as the weather warms up, walking is a COVID-friendly exercise to participate in with a friend or family member provided you’re following public health guidelines,” says Riess.

“Walking is a COVID-friendly exercise to participate in.”

“You can still maintain the appropriate physical distancing while socializing, and it gives you a great reason to get outdoors for fresh air, sunshine and to explore your neighbourhood and communities.”


Banner image: Igor Alecsander/iStockphoto.com.

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