So many articles and advice in the fitness arena overlook one of the fastest ways to get fit and improve our overall health: a regular, if not daily, walking program.
It’s the one obvious solution that will keep you fit, healthy, get you outdoors and provide all the energy and endorphin boost you will ever need.
If you are thinking ‘well, walking isn’t really a workout, I’m going to stop you right there. As a personal trainer and nutrition coach, I’m here to convince you otherwise. Here’s how.
Walking burns calories
Walking has an abundance of benefits and weight loss is one of them. A 30-minute walk can mean burning anywhere between 150 and 230 calories depending on your pace and weight; increase that to an hour and you could be looking at almost 500 calories if you get that heart pumping. Even better news is that fasted cardio forces the body to burn fat for fuel, making walking the perfect low-impact exercise during Ramadan. Keep it to an hour or less if you’re fasting and don’t go out in the hottest part of the day. The closer to breaking fast the better, so you can rehydrate as soon as possible after.
Walking could mean living longer
Observational studies have shown that those who take more steps are less likely to die — true story! As well as being a great way to maintain a healthy weight, walking can help increase cardiovascular fitness, which is important in preventing heart disease, the world’s number one killer. Upping your step count can also help prevent and manage type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels, boost your immune function, improve circulation, balance, coordination and posture, strengthen your bones, glutes, quad and calf muscles and as boost muscle endurance and power. All without stressing your joints.
Walking is good for your mental health
Like all exercise, walking leads to the release of endorphins, a neurochemical that decreases your sensitivity to stress, anxiety and pain, while leaving you with a high of happiness. Regular walking can also raise serotonin levels in your brain, boosting your mood, improving your sleep cycles and increasing self-esteem. Even if you’re short on time, a brisk 10-minute walk can increase mental alertness, energy and encourage a positive mood. Going out for a stroll can clear the mind just as well as yoga and meditation, takes you away from social media and gadgets and is a good time to practice breathwork. Alternatively, ask a friend to join you for a catch-up while you walk. Socializing has its own benefits for mental well-being, by preventing mental decline and lowering the risk of dementia.
Get your other half to join you, too. Walking can improve relationships by relieving the mind of clutter and producing quality conversations free of interruptions.
Walking is good for your brain
Racking up the steps improves cognitive function. Immersing yourself in nature, reducing screen-time and increasing blood flow to the brain can all encourage creative thinking. Combine your walk with learning by listening to a news or information podcast or seeking out new music. Never have the time to read? Move to audio books and you’ll look forward to walking and finding out what happens next. make walking spill over into your working life by suggesting ‘walking meetings’ to your colleagues.
A few specifics
The right shoes and good walking technique are important, especially if you start going longer distances. Keep your head up, straighten your back, relax your neck and shoulders and try to engage your core. Swing your arms with each step to create momentum. Choose shoes with cushioned soles, a firm heel and proper arch support and wear comfortable clothing that is weather appropriate with reflective elements for night-time walks. If you’re walking for longer than 20 minutes or at a speedy pace, make sure to stretch your legs, glute muscles and lower back every time. A good overall stretch is yoga’s child’s pose.
Where to go
The UAE offers great walking options from The Palm Jumeirah Boardwalk or JLT Lakes in Dubai, hiking options in Jebel Jais and Hatta, or the Jubail Mangrove Walks or Eastern Mangroves walks in Abu Dhabi. If you’re looking for some air conditioning, it’s easy to rack up steps at the mall; or Dubai Sports World for their indoor walking track.