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Walk It Off: How To Make Walks More Challenging

Apr 13, 2020, 15:24 PM by Peggy Merrill

It can be tough to stay motivated and keep moving when fitness options are, well, um … when there are so few options. However, don’t underestimate the power of walking. Yes, walking. That good ol’ fashioned way of getting from one place to the next. It’s a humble and often-overlooked form of exercise.

But do not ignore its power. 

Our bodies were made to walk. The regular practice of walking is low impact, weight bearing, easy on the joints and wonderful for the mind. Walking also promotes balance and mobility. Many philosophers, writers, intellectuals and creatives have written about walking as key to thinking well, a strong constitution and the perfect antidote to a solemn disposition.

And now is really, truly the time for antidotes to a solemn disposition.

Although we know you are excited to get back to your regular exercise program, think about this moment as a time to “cross train,” to try something new. 

person wearing jeans walks small dog on sidewalk

But you have to consider your walks as something more than moseying or strolling. Think about them as your workout. Here are a few tips and tricks to make your walks more challenging: 

Fine-tune The Basics

• Duration: While short walks can be valuable, consider adding in some longer walks to make your routine more challenging. 
• Frequency: Walk frequently — throughout each day and throughout each week.
• Intensity: Enjoy those slow walks or evening strolls. However, you should try to push your pace until you are breathing hard and feeling a change in body temperature.

Push Yourself

• Hills: If you are thinking, “I’ve got hills covered. I go up and down the stairs 20 times a day in my house,” not so fast. Stairs and hills are not the same. You use your body differently when you are navigating hills compared to plodding up and down 6-inch steps throughout the day. Adding some hills to your route will help give you a cardio boost.
• Terrain: Try varying your terrain. Most of us are very used to traversing across flat ground, so let your body experience the shape shifts that happen in a natural environment by walking across roots, grass, rocks, dirt, sand, etc.
• Small modifications: If you are new to walking, even a short, small incline will make a big difference.  As you advance, find bigger and longer hills. 

Diversify the Benefits

• Balance: To help improve balance, stop every 5 minutes throughout your walk and practice balancing on one leg and then the other. Walk across logs, pipes, the edge of a sidewalk or a painted line. Walk a pretend tight rope.
• Strength: To help boost leg strength, pause during your walk to take a few steps backward and then side step 10 steps to the right and 10 steps to the left. Add lunges or squats throughout. 
• Vision: Here’s a chance to exercise your eyes. In an internal environment, our eyes only get to gaze out about 10 feet in front of us. That’s why being outside helps our vision. Practice holding your head in a proper position and gazing out as far as you can see. It will relax the muscles around your eyes. 

Exercise Your Mind 

• New routes: While our bodies grow fitter with routine, our minds grow fitter with novel experiences. Even if a “new route” just means turning right as you exit your front door versus turning left, you will still see things in a new way. Listen for the sound of birds, wind, trees and water. All the beautiful sounds our bodies and minds crave.
• Learn and listen: Are you one of those people who considers walks boooorrring? There are plenty of ways to make your walk more interesting. Listen to podcasts, the news or audio books. Learn a language. Chat with a friend.

Family with two kids takes walk with dog

Make it a Family Experience

• Bring the kids: Let’s be honest, kids sometimes don’t like walks. And that’s OK. But you still want to encourage them to join in. Despite their protests, a half mile into the walk, their disposition will soften, they will open up and they will start saying profound things. 
• Take your time: These family strolls will not likely be the best workout of the week. Walking with kids can be slow and full of stops as they embrace all the distractions of the natural world. These walks still benefit the soul, the mind and the body — with the added benefit of being an excellent relationship builder. But does it count as exercise? Of course.
• Keep going: Don’t be discouraged if your child is extra resistant on a particular day (or every day). You aren’t alone. My kids still lament the time I "made" them take a hike on Mother’s Day… And it poured. Despite this trauma, they still somehow grew up to contribute to society without too much therapy. Try to think of it as “resistance training” for the soul. No weights required.   

In short, walking is easy and enjoyable, and there is something refreshing and invigorating about a good walk. And you don’t need a home gym or an Internet connection to make it happen. That simplicity is your friend. It means you already have everything you need: just two feet and a little motivation. 

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