Walk on different surfaces
Varying the surfaces you walk on is a great idea. Walk on concrete, the grass, try bush walks with uneven surfaces, walk on the beach. All of these different surfaces will give the body new challenges and will help strengthen the feet and legs and help stimulate the proprioceptors in the feet. These will all lead to a better functioning body. This also leads into my next tip, what shoes to wear.
Wear minimal shoes if possible
The minimal shoe/barefoot debate is a big one. From a functional point of view, it is ideal to wear no shoes or minimal shoes so that your feet move as much as possible in a natural way. Wearing supportive shoes with lots of cushioning are comfortable but you need to ask yourself, is it the best thing for your feet?
Note: I recommend minimal shoes where possible, however, if you have feet problems or need arch support due to these problems, then make sure you consult your medical professional to see if it is safe to wear minimal shoes. They are not right for everyone so you need to be careful.
Listening to music
Listening to music can help with walking according to a study in the Journal of Sports & Exercise Psychology. They found that when people walked with fast-tempo music (approx. 120 bpm), they walked 15% longer than those who had no music. The lead author suggested that may occur as the music improved the persons’ mood, motivated them, focused their attention, distracted them from feeling tired for longer periods of time and helped them move more efficiently. Sounds like good reasons to listen to music to me.
Note: Music may be beneficial when walking, but it can be less beneficial when doing exercises in the gym, like free weights. I wrote a blog a while ago that mentioned that if you concentrate on what you are doing when you exercise rather than listen to music, you will be able to lift more etc, and get better results. It is well worth a read.
Walk at varying speeds
Changing your walking speed is a great idea. Walking faster will get the heart rate up and get you working hard. You can vary your speed during your walk or have certain days of the week that you walk fast and other days that you walk slower. Interval type training can be very effective. Try walking normal pace and then have bursts of walking faster at regular intervals during the walk.
Track your distances, times etc… and record them
When you take up any new exercise program, it pays to track what you are doing. This goes for walking too. The easiest thing to do is use a pedometer or step counter. You also need to write this information down. A study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that men and women walked 15% more each day when they used pedometers and recorded their daily step in a diary than when they just wore pedometers but didn’t track their performance.
Walk on varying inclines and declines
When you are walking varying the course so that it includes inclines and declines will give you better results. Walking uphill, for example, makes you work harder so you will burn more calories. You also use different muscles when walking uphill and downhill.
If you are just starting out make sure you work up to big hill walks and try to have a days rest between hill walks to allow your body time to recover.
Have a goal
As with any exercise program, having a goal will give you motivation. I like the idea of having a big goal to aim for, such as a half marathon or a 15km walk etc, but then have intermediate goals that will help you get there bit by bit. The intermediate goal may be starting off with 5000 steps a day, then 10000 steps etc. You could also have goals for certain courses that you walk and try to complete the course in a certain time.
This is one of the most important points for me. As with any exercise, technique is key. Walking is no different. When you are out walking make sure you are using good posture. Stand up tall, have your core on, shoulders back and down in a stable position, chest out and head looking forward. Good posture will make you move more efficiently, you will be able to breathe better and you will get better results. There is no negative side to good posture. The picture shows a good gait cycle with good posture. It came from an article called "walking with attitude". It describes good walking posture quite well.
Poor posture is one of the main causes of the problems that I see in practice. Working on your posture will benefit your walking but will also benefit your day to day to day life. Practice it, make good posture become your norm and your body will thank you for it.
P.S. If you want to walk but have aches or pains or a problem stopping you from starting, It may be worthwhile getting it assessed to see what can be done to fix it and get you back on track. If you would like advice from a chiropractic point of view, please contact me. I am happy to help.