“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
It turns out the German philosopher was really onto something there. A 2014 study by Stanford found that walking did indeed increase creative thinking. They examined the creativity levels of people while they walked versus while they sat and found a person’s creative output increased by an average of 60 per cent when walking. Nietzsche wasn’t alone in his belief, and there have been many well-known ‘walkers’ throughout history – Henry David Thoreau, Virginia Woolf, Ludwig van Beethoven…, and even Socrates and Aristotle were known to teach while walking with their students in the grounds of the Lyceum.
Whether you are looking for the solution to a problem or a creative spark, walking can help. But there are many more benefits than thinking of the perfect witty ending to a presentation or a way to fix the shower head – walking has been shown to promote a longer, healthier, happier life in so many ways. According to Mayo Clinic and Harvard Health, walking can help with:
- Maintaining weight and losing body fat
- Preventing or managing high blood pressure
- Strengthening bones and muscles
- Improving mood, cognition, memory and sleep
- Boosting the immune system
- Preventing and managing heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes
- Reducing stress and tension
- Improving balance
- Increasing energy levels
- Easing joint pain
- Reducing sugar cravings
Ultimately, probably the best exercise is the one that we do regularly and consistently, and walking is available just outside the front door. It is a suitable way for beginners to make moves towards their health goals and can be made more challenging as fitness increases. Below are our top tips for walking for wellness.
While walking is known to improve bone and muscle condition, it is important to have appropriate shoes to cushion impact and provide some level of protection. Talk to an expert at a bespoke exercise retailer to have your gait assessed and the right shoes recommended for you. If you are walking regularly, it is a good idea to check your shoes every six months as they will need replacing if used frequently – it may sound often, but ultimately it will keep you on the right (walking) track and help avoid injury.
10,000 steps (8km) has long been quoted as the right amount to get through in a day; however, there are many different distances purported to be the ‘perfect’ amount. The NZ Heart Foundation recommends a minimum of around 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week, to see benefits. Depending on your age and fitness level, we suggest beginners start with 3km per day, four days a week, and build up to 6-8km, five days a week, as fitness levels increase.
Like almost anything in life, consistency is key. While we wouldn’t negate the immediate benefits of walking once a week, five days a week should be the goal – so how do we achieve that?
Make it fun. Walk with the dog, a friend or with headphones on listening to your favourite music or podcast. Choose an uplifting route when possible – by the sea, bush, a park or find the beauty in your own neighbourhood.
Prepare for the weather. If it’s hot and sunny, make sure you have a hat, sunscreen (in any weather) and are well hydrated. If it’s wet and wild, wear a rain jacket and make sure you dry off well and stay warm afterwards – a little rain can be lovely to walk in, and even during the winter months, the immune-boosting benefits of walking can still be harnessed.
Make it easy for yourself to get going. If you prefer to exercise in the morning, have your walking gear, shoes and socks ready by the bed or in the bathroom, so there’s no thinking required – it’s just one more step after brushing your teeth. Likewise, if you walk at lunch or after work, have a bag packed and ready the night before so you can grab and go.
Do it your way. Some people love variety and exploring a different route with different music each day. Others go the same way, listening (or not) to the same thing every time. There is no right or wrong, go with what works for you!
Make it social. There are loads of walking groups throughout Aotearoa. If company and like-minded goals float your boat, consider joining one of the groups listed at at.govt.nz/cycling-walking/walking/walking-groups-organisations-and-resources
Pace and route
When it comes to health benefits, kicking things up a notch with pace is a boost – optimally we’re talking a pace where you can breathe easily enough to chat, if necessary, but it’s not a dawdle. Once you have reached a point of walking comfortably for 5km, three to five times a week, consider adding a hill or steps into your route to add an aerobic and muscular challenge for your body.
When walking, aim to maintain good posture – shoulders back, down and relaxed, standing tall with your eyes up and ahead rather than on the ground at your feet. Try and step lightly – making a minimal amount of noise as each foot hits the ground rather than with a heavy plod or bounce. Let your arms swing freely from the shoulders, rather than from your elbows, and avoid overly crossing the body.
You may find it motivational to set goals for your walking, whether that is a charity walk, weekend hike, increased speed over the same walk or increased distance over time.
And I ran
So, you’ve been walking for a while and are wanting to up the ante? Walking is an amazingly effective form of exercise for a healthy mind and body… and running can be a great way of achieving those same benefits in a shorter amount of time. Say it takes you an hour to walk 6.5km, you may be able to run the same distance 15 minutes faster. If burning calories for weight loss is your goal, you might want to increase your distance to 8km and run it in a similar time. Running burns about twice the amount of calories as walking, so overall the effect is even greater.
How to get started
As with walking, the right shoes are a really important place to start. What you wear can make a difference too – light, breathable fabric designed to draw moisture away from the skin can keep you cooler and more comfortable. If increasing your distance, you may want to look at accessories, like a sports watch to help track your progress, or a water pack or belt to make keeping hydrated easier.
To increase your aerobic capability and prepare your muscles for the increased effort, it’s advisable to start with a combination of walking and running. For example, walk for 5 minutes to warm up, then run for 5 minutes, then walk for 5 minutes and repeat. Over time, reduce the amount of walking time in-between so that you slowly end up running the whole time. You may also find it helpful to walk some days and run others as your body adjusts.
Start with what feels comfortable for you – 3-4km is a good starting point, building up to a distance that you can maintain. Many people find that running shorter distances during the week with a longer run at the weekend works well, and allows them to progress their fitness while avoiding injury.
As you progress, you might find it motivational to increase your speed. Start by timing your runs, then think about speeding up your pace. Things to keep in mind are using your leg turnover (faster steps) rather than trying to increase stride length (longer steps) too much to achieve this. Ultimately, it’s best to run in a way that feels right for your body. Incorporating a hill or two into your route can also help with overall fitness and ultimately speed – think of hills as speed training in disguise.
As with walking, correct form is important to avoid injury. Having a strong core is important, and it is ideal to supplement your running with some core strength work. Aim to have your shoulders down and back (think about tucking your shoulder blades into your ‘back pockets’) and your chin in a neutral position. When approaching hills, try to maintain your effort, rather than your speed, and keep your body upright, eyes directly ahead rather than down, or up the hill – ideally focused about 3-6 metres in front. Swing your arms in a natural movement, keeping your elbows tucked in and avoiding crossing your body. Aim to keep your hands relaxed and loose. It may be helpful to have someone video you on their phone while
running as sometimes what we think we’re doing isn’t what we’re doing at all!
To warm down at the end of a run, it is important to end with a few minutes of walking followed by stretching the main muscles involved – hamstrings, quadriceps, calves, iliotibial bands, hips and shins.
There are a multitude of running books and websites that can help you learn more – two of our favourites are runnersworld.com and halhigdon.com.
Whether you’re lacing up your shoes for that first walk around the block or entering your first half marathon, choosing to move your body is a great way to improve mental and physical fitness. And who knows… maybe have a creative epiphany along the way!