How to get more out of your daily walk

Many of us added a daily walk to our regular routine last year, but doing the same route over and over can get a little tedious. Our bodies can also adapt to it, meaning we push ourselves less and burn fewer calories.

There are many compelling mental health reasons to stay motivated. Exercise outdoors improves mood, reduces stress and anger and improves confidence and self-esteem. So, instead of skipping your walk for fear of boredom, here are a few things you can do to mix it up.

Challenge (and reward) yourself
If you have a set route you do every day set yourself some small challenges. Can you complete the route in a faster time? Can you avoid slowing down when going uphill? Is it easier or harder if you reverse the route?

If you complete your challenge don’t forget to reward yourself, even if it’s just an affirming pat on your own back, or a coffee and tasty snack when you get home.

Check things off a list
Write up a list of things you might encounter during your walk and tick them off as you go. Here are some examples:

  • pick up a piece of litter and throw it away
  • identify plants and flowers
  • look for wildlife
  • run down a hill
  • say hello to everyone you pass.

This is a great way to enjoy your walk in an unusual way and gets you moving differently.

Walk on different textures
This could be a bit difficult if your usual route follows the pavement but walking across as many different textures and types of ground as you can is great for getting the small muscles in your feet working. Navigating muddy puddles, tree branches and sand also keeps things interesting.

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Change up your route
We usually have an idea of where we’re going when we head out the door for a walk, but some spontaneity can do wonders. Add some excitement to your walks by taking different directions when you come to crossroads. You could take it a step further by bringing along a die and assign numbers to each possible direction. You could also hop on a bus for a few stops and walk back.

Go for longer
Exactly how long you should walk for depends on your starting point and existing fitness level. For one person, 10 minutes could be a challenge, for others 90 minutes might be standard. Progress slowly, adding two to five extra minutes to each walk per week. Once you build up to a duration that feels challenging but doable, you can stay there – or try dropping back down to a shorter distance at a faster pace.

Feel the burn with some added weight
Walking already involves your calves, quads, hamstrings, glutes, and core. Integrating weights can further challenge those muscles and also recruit more of your upper body.

There are several ways to add weight to your walk:

  • carry light dumbbells
  • add some wrist weights
  • invest in a weighted vest
  • load up a securely fitting backpack.

Just make sure to keep the weight balanced – and that you’re comfortable with the (unweighted) moves before adding that extra resistance.

Ankle weights, while great for some workouts, can interfere with your knee alignment when worn while walking.

Add in some intervals
Incorporating short periods of harder effort can make your walk more challenging, and more fun. If you’re not sure where to start, try an interval pyramid. Start with a 10-minute warm-up at a focused pace where you can still maintain a conversation, but you feel as though you’re working. Then speed up until you can only speak in short sentences; hold this pace for one minute before slowing down again for one minute. Follow that with two minutes fast and two minutes easy, then three minutes fast and three minutes easy. Work your way back down again with two minutes fast and two minutes easy, then one minute fast and one minute easy, before finishing with a five-minute recovery.

If you don’t want to worry about timing yourself, make it less formal and use the landmarks around you. Pick a bench, tree or lamppost and walk fast until you reach it then spend a minute at a recovery pace before choosing another landmark.

Walk at a different time of the day
The nature of the area you’re walking through can completely change during the day. Bustling cities can be surprisingly peaceful early in the morning and long beaches can be great for people watching during a lunchtime stroll.

Changing the time of your walk can show familiar places in a whole different light.

Pick up the phone
Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, walking and talking can bring lots of joy.

How do you keep your walks fresh? Is there a neighbourhood walk you do often? Do you like to walk on your own or with a friend?

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Written by Ellie Baxter


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