It’s National Walking Month and a great time to celebrate the amazing benefits of this wonderful outdoor activity. Whether you call it a walk or a hike, being on the move outdoors has many benefits for both your physical and mental health.
To get the most out of your walks, supporting yourself nutritionally, especially where your joints and bones are concerned, is so important so that they carry you along the miles without complaining.
Clinical Nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shares her five top tips to ensure you can keep moving, however tough the hike may be!
Put the nutrients in
There are many nutritional components that make up our skeletal frame and support its strength, growth, and repair. However, there are a few essential nutrients to be aware of.
One of the key nutrients is vitamin D. Also known as the sunshine vitamin, vitamin D is made on the body when the sun is shining (and skin is exposed to it). However, deficiency within the UK population is still widespread. Importantly, one of vitamin D’s main functions is to metabolise calcium, a key mineral in our bones. It’s certainly worth continuing to supplement with vitamin D through the summer months too, especially if you’re active.
Calcium-rich foods include dairy (natural Greek yoghurt is great), leafy green vegetables, sesame seeds, tofu, and other soy products, so ensure your diet is rich in these. Magnesium is also important for the bones and is found mainly in whole grain foods, avocados, legumes, nuts, and leafy greens. These are all foods that are going to help put some power into your walk.
We know that nature has provided us with some amazing herbs and one that is especially good for supporting joints and bones is Devil’s claw (Harpagophytum). It has been found to help decrease any swelling in the joints, and generally reduce inflammation, which could certainly stop the enjoyment of your hike.
Devil’s claw is frequently used for back pain which can also be a common problem amongst keen walkers, partly because you’re often walking off balance on rough ground or going up and down hills. If you’re suffering, then it’s certainly worth a try; anything that keeps you moving.
Keeping the bones and joints strong by doing some resistance or weight training can really help support the body, and reduce the likelihood of injury, when you’re out walking.
You certainly don’t need to become a body builder! It’s just about doing movements such as squats, bicep curls or walking lunges with some weights to suit your ability. For women, during and after the menopause, this is especially important, as reducing oestrogen levels mean our bone density is also reducing. This negative effect can be reversed by doing resistance work. It’s certainly a ‘win-win’ situation for a more comfortable walk.
Don’t forget to stretch
If the weather is a little chilly and your body is not really warmed up, this is the time when you can easily sustain an annoying injury. A calf tear, or jolt to the knees is common. However, you can help prevent problems by doing some gentle stretching before and after your hike.
Before you start, get the blood pumping around the body by doing some shoulder rolls, body twists and body weight squats. Then you can do some stretching of the knees, calves, ankles, hamstrings (back of the leg) and quadriceps (front of the leg) and repeat when you return from your walk. It doesn’t need to take long but could save you grief further down the line.
Put out any fires
Not literally (hopefully)! However, if you sustain any kind of injury or have an inflammatory condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, then the body is effectively on fire within. This can cause pain and may prevent you from getting out and about.
Obviously, all the measures above will help but it’s also important to ensure your diet is rich in colour overall. Colourful fruit and vegetables are rich in antioxidants which help support the body’s inflammatory processes naturally. We know that leafy green vegetables are rich in several key minerals so make sure you have plenty in the diet. Equally, red, orange, yellow, purple, and red fruits and vegetables are also high in antioxidants, so try to include some every day in your diet.
Celebrate National Walking Month and keep moving – your health will thank you for it!
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