WALKING - THE SECRET WEAPON OF FITNESS

WALKING is a much underestimated form of exercise. It is often dismissed as a stepping stone towards running, but has fantastic, long-lasting benefits in its own right.

It is easy to start, enjoyable and with small chance of injury. This means you can keep it up over the months needed to get big and lasting effects on your body and mind.

HOW TO WALK

To be effective, walking needs to be done with purpose and vigour - faster than a stroll - with you travelling 3mph or faster. I always say, it’s like walking down a corridor at work to make a complaint.

To keep up this speed, you will need to upgrade to the way you walk.

Your arms play a big part in walking - as they do in running. Keep them bent between 45 to 90 degrees at the elbow and swing them in time with the opposite leg. This balances the body and gives you drive and momentum. 

Don’t let this big, positive movement hunch up your shoulders. Stand tall and keep your chest up and shoulders back and down. Your back should be straight, your chin slightly down, and your head lifted by an imaginary string from your crown.

Keep your abs tight - pull in your belly-button - and try to feel that they are leading you forward (rather than being led by your legs). It will make you walk with real purpose.

WALK LIKE YOU OWN THE PLACE

Step very deliberately. Land heel first, then roll towards the ball of your foot and push off with your toes. Strike evenly with both feet. This will help prevent injury as well as make you faster.

Breathe deeply through your nose and out through your mouth. Personally, walking or running, I like to 'double breathe', breathing in and out twice as deeply than I normally do.

EQUIPMENT

Walking poles give you balance and momentum. They also gets your arms, back, shoulders working harder. Personally, I prefer to walk as nature intended, without poles, but it is a personal choice.

Fitness trackers - or apps on a mobile phone - to record where you walked and how fast you went are great for immediate motivation and to see the progress you are making over weeks and months. 

Apps - such as Map My Walk - also show you exactly where you are are, meaning you won’t get lost. However, don’t let the technology destroy the pure joy of walking for the sake of it nor mean you have one eye permanently glued to your phone.

MAKE IT HARDER

To make things more challenging you can make a number of changes: go faster, go further, go uphill or carry heavier things. 

I don’t like ankle weights. They corrupt the natural movement of the legs and can lead to strains. Increasing your pace and/or distance is a better option if you want to make it harder. Building up to a 10km walk would be nice challenge; 20km would be even meatier.

Carrying a backpack also increases the intensity. Make sure it fits comfortable across your back, distributing the weight evenly. It can, obviously, carry the bits and pieces you need for a lengthy walk - water, a snack, waterproofs, a good book for when you rest your legs - and the hardcore among us could carry extra weight for the sake of making it harder. 

When carrying your pack, make extra sure you maintain your good posture and purposeful walking style.

If you really want to turbo-charge your walking, look for a long-distance event. Action Challenge run a series of 20km, 25km, 50km or 100km walks, and the British Heart Foundation organises a series of events. A rummage on the internet will yield many more. 

A version of this article by Roger Love first appeared in Top Sante magazine

Roger Love