Walk your way to health

Gillian Cooper
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Hate running? It isn’t for everyone. If the thought of pounding the pavement leaves you cold, research published in American Heart Association Journal shows that walking has just as many health benefits as running. In fact, studies show it’s better for you than high-impact exercise because of increased risk of injury – walking is gentler on the joints.*
Regular walking has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and it can also help maintain a healthy weight and is proven to boost mood and memory. Walking outdoors can add extra challenges when you have to work against the wind and uneven surfaces, too. And, best of all, walking is free and available to everyone.

Ready, set, go

Invest in a pedometer or use a 'health app' if you have a smartphone to count how many steps you take in a typical day - this is your baseline. Then, set attainable goals to gradually increase that number over time. The average person walks between 3,000 and 4,000 steps per day** and 10,000 steps is a common long-term goal. Aim to increase it gradually by, say, 500 each week. That's steps around the house, at work, the supermarket... they all count!

Your phone app can help you track your daily progress but you can also keep a written aim to increase the speed at which you walk over time and trying tougher terrains such as uphill. Finally, remember to congratulate yourself upon achieving your goals!

Get the most out of walking

You just put one foot in front of the other, right? Not exactly. The way you walk affects your body and posture, so follow these tips°:
• Walking with your right and left foot too close together puts stress on your internal organs. So keep your foot width parallel to your hip bones. Avoid taking huge strides as this will twist your spine.
• Make sure you distribute your body weight along the whole sole of your foot (rather than leaning on the inner or outer part of the foot) to help straighten out wonky legs.
• Don't slouch! Keep those abdominal muscles pulled up - engaging your core muscles will help you achieve a flatter stomach.
• Walk with your head upright and eyes looking ahead - and resist looking down at your mobile - to keep your centre balanced.
• Carrying heavy bags or handbags slung on one shoulder can bend your spine and cause back and hip pain. Invest in a backpack and avoid packing it too full.
• Invest in a pair of good walking shoes and avoid wearing heels often. Good shoes will support and help protect you from nerve, tendon and spine injuries.

Staying motivated is much easier once you make it a habit and incorporate activity into your everyday life. Why not try some of these:

•walk part of your journey to work
•take the stairs instead of the lift or walk up the escalator
•in good weather, walk the kids to school
•go on a regular walk with a friend
•go for a stroll with family or friends after dinner
•join a walking group. Visit Meetup.com to find your local club

Ready to take to the trail? Try one of these walks.°

Barton Broad Boardwalk, Broads National Park
The boardwalk is easily accessible by wheelchair and will take you on a mysterious journey of discovery into a lost world which has remained isolated for half a century. The mystery trails leads you through swampy, wildlife filled carr woodland, with resting places and tapping edges along the way and emerges to give a surprise panoramic view over Barton, second largest of the broads.
Distance: 1.5 miles Difficulty rating: (one star)

Blackwater: Tall Trees Arboretum Link, New Forest National Park
An easy woodland walk with a gravel path winding in and among the giant conifers. A chance to see up close the giant trees including England’s tallest sequoia.
Distance: 1.5 miles Difficulty rating: (one star)

The River Bure and Upton, Norfolk
Explore the Norfolk Broads with this interesting half-day walk. The route follows the River Bure past Clippesby Drainage Mill to the village of Upton and offers a chance to visit the round-towered church at Fishley.
Distance: 5 miles Difficulty rating: (two stars)

Warlaw Pike and Birkside Fell, Northumberland
Navigate the moors between Weardale and Tynedale. Starting in the picturesque stonebuilt village of Blanchland in Derwentdale, it's a steady climb to the edge of Slaley Forest before returning across the North Pennines.
Distance: 8 miles Difficulty rating: (two stars)

St. Sunday Crag & Helvellyn, Cumbria
This demanding Lake District hike for experienced walkers involves a lot of uphill climbing, but you will be rewarded by breath taking views. It includes four mountains, including Helvellyn, the third highest in the Lake District. Map reading skills essential.
Distance: 11.5 miles Difficulty rating: (three stars)

For more information, visit: http://www.nationalparks.gov.uk/visiting/outdooractivities/walking/top_15_national_park_walks


* www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/apr/05/brisk-walk-healthier-running-scientists

** www.nhs.uk

° www.natural-walking.com  

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