Today is National Walk to Work Day, encouraging everyone to walk more. Walking is a wonderfully versatile and healthy form of exercise that can easily be fitted into the busiest of days and suits everyone regardless of ability.
From taking a stroll in your lunch break to planning a hiking holiday, there are so many ways to get more walking into your daily life and reap the benefits of being outdoors in the fresh air at the same time.
Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer provides her five top ways to walk your way to a healthier mind and body.
Walk to work
If you can, walk to work. An alternative is to find somewhere to park a little way away from work, and then ‘park and stride’ to get your steps in. Clearly, this is not possible for everyone. However, if you’re office-based then it’s really important to take time away from your desk during the day.
Try to fit in a 20 to 30 minute walk at lunch time every day. This will get blood flow to the brain, which will help concentration during the afternoon, but will also help balance blood sugar levels. Walking after you’ve eaten lunch (or any meal) helps the body’s natural insulin response, which is needed for effective weight management. Moreover, brisk walking is great for toning the leg muscles and helps towards overall cardiac fitness levels.
Eat a protein-based lunch beforehand: both the choice of food and the walk afterwards will help stop that common 3 pm energy dip!
For those who enjoy running, it’s a great form of exercise. However, for people wanting to get fit who don’t want to run, then uphill walking is fantastic for all-round good health.
Uphill walking quickly raises the heart rate meaning its’s great for cardiovascular fitness and also good for burning calories. Even better, it’s one of the best ways of exercising your thighs and glutes! Either walk uphill for at least 30 minutes three times a week on a running machine in the gym, or ideally get out into the great outdoors; there’s always a hill to climb somewhere.
Whilst it’s important that the body is properly fuelled for exercise, you don’t need to be eating any more than normal. For example, if you’ve had some porridge for breakfast and then you take a walk, you’ll have plenty of energy for exercise. Equally, there’s nothing wrong with doing an early morning pre-breakfast walk, especially now the lighter mornings have arrived now the clocks have gone forward. Lighter evenings also mean a pre or post dinner walk is a lovely way to enjoy some exercise in your local area.
Join a group
With the hope of warmer weather and certainly longer days, now is a good time to fully enjoy the great outdoors. Walking with an organised group really helps motivation; you’ll see parts of the countryside you never knew existed previously and you’ll always make new friends and acquaintances. There are many groups all around the UK organising day hikes of varying lengths and paces – just find one that suits you.
If you’re taking a day hike, you generally won’t need to pack any more food than you’d normally eat. For example, a sandwich lunch with a protein filling such as egg or chicken is great. Alternatively, a falafel or avocado and hummus wrap will help sustain energy levels throughout the day with plenty of energising B-vitamins. Also, pack some snacks: low glycaemic fruit such as berries or an apple, or a handful of nuts, are great for sustained energy and you’ll be good to go all day long. However, and most importantly, don’t leave the house without having breakfast; anything oat-based or packed with protein would be the best choices.
Be a little adventurous
For those that may want to travel further afield or fancy the idea of something a little tougher, then why not investigate some of the many walking challenges on offer? The famous Camino de Santiago in Spain is one such example. You can do as little as a seven day walk or longer if preferred. If you have the time you could try something more challenging such as a mountain hike or the Great Wall of China. Setting yourself specific goals is great for the body and mind. Many people find that walking improves their mood.
Longer challenges will always require additional training and a specific nutrition programme, both great for keeping health and weight in check. Many people make the mistake of eating way more food than is needed when they start training for an event or challenge. Don’t forget, the body has masses of energy stored both in the muscles and organs as glycogen (glucose) or in the fat cells. If in doubt, research online: there are plenty of resources and recommendations from people who have already been on such treks and hikes that you can learn from.
Enjoy the coast
Obviously the UK is surrounded by water and this means there are plentiful coastal walks and paths to be investigated. Coastal walking brings its own special blend of magic as well as more challenging hikes. Most are gently undulating paths, as opposed to more difficult climbs, but a little prior research will give you the information you need.
Why not celebrate the success of your coastal walk by enjoying some delicious seafood once you’ve finished. In season right now, squid is great barbequed, tossed in a salad, stir fried or grilled, making an excellent high protein, low fat post-walk treat! Squid is also great with prawns, tomatoes and linguine to properly re-fuel after exercise. It’s essential to eat protein after exercise to help muscles repair, plus carbohydrate replaces glycogen into the muscles so you’ll have plenty of energy the next day.
So get out there and get those legs moving! Find the walking that suits you best and enjoy the outdoors at the same time.
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