Today's blog post starts with a video introduction. Click below to watch it first.
OK, let’s dismiss one myth right out of the gate - The truth is, there IS no best workout routine for every body. That’s because every body has different needs, based on genetics, lifestyle, life stage, preferences, physical abilities, etc.
You may have heard exercise gurus, or even your doctor, tell you that the “best” type of workout is the the one you will actually do.
While it is certainly true that you won’t enjoy the full benefits of any kind of physical exercise unless you commit to doing it regularly, I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that your spin class or treadmill are great choices for you just because you have mustered up the gumption to drag yourself to the gym three times a week.
After all, what kind of damage must you be doing to your psyche and morale while you're trying to take care of your body? Been there, done that.
My On-Again, Off Again Exercise Habit
Personally, I have never been especially gung-ho about exercise for its own sake. A little too lacking in coordination for organized sports, I enjoyed some hiking and bicycling in high school, did “step” aerobic classes and Nautilus machines in college, discovered the elliptical trainer in the 90’s, and was an fairly regular yoga practitioner for years until the need to run kids around made it impossible to get to class.
Work got busy, the kids got busier, and it all just started to feel so...complicated. You know?
I had enjoyed some of my workouts, some of the time. But didn't enjoy any of them all of the time. The idea of trying to get myself to the gym in the midst of my crazy life just made me feel tired. And headachey.
And then I felt lazy. And guilty. Ugh.
Fast forward a few years and suddenly (it seemed), I had a tummy for the first time in my life. Although I wasn’t overweight, I noticed that my legs and rear didn’t seem to have the definition they once had. Then I got word that my cholesterol was borderline high. Yikes!
Around the same time, we were moving, the kids were busy with all kinds of things, and I was feeling very overwhelmed in work and life. Everything seemed to be spiraling downward. “Working out”, per se, was not high on my priority list.
And yet, I knew I needed something. I longed for a simpler way to nurture my body, one that wasn't so stressful. One that felt energizing instead of draining. And preferably one that I wasn't constantly trying to come up with a reason to avoid.
Enter walking. I didn't really start with the idea of exercise - I just had a dog that had to go. But walking became my go-to stress reliever, my “me” time, and, yes, my primarily fitness strategy, if you can call it that since I didn't really "strategize" about it at all. It was fast, easy, cheap, and most importantly, it felt simple and nurturing in the midst of my busy life. In fact, it had the surprising added benefit of making my busy and stress-filled life seem a lot more manageable.
Walking - The Universal Workout
It is a fact that most healthy people can walk. That alone makes walking something of a “universal” exercise option. So it’s not a big surprise that the American Heart Association names walking as the most popular form of exercise in the US and the LA Times says 70 percent of people name walking as their primary form of fitness.
In fact, more Americans walk for fitness than run (the second most popular form of exercise worldwide). Some research has suggested that every hour of brisk walking may even increase life expectancy by two hours.
Add to that the fact that it is so accessible and simple and it’s easy to see why more and more people are jumping on the walking bandwagon.
How Much Do You Need?
When I head out the door for a walk (mindful or otherwise), sometimes I have 30 minutes to spare, sometimes just 10. The good news is that it all adds up to better health.
Research suggests that a minimum of 150 minutes of walking a week has the power to
lower your risk for diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer
- increase energy
- reduce blood pressure and cholesterol
- improve your mental health
- ward off osteoporosis
- prevent weight gain
Experts agree that a couple of 10 to 20 minute walks a day is just as powerful - and may be easier on your body and your schedule - than one long walk.
No Huffing or Puffing Required
That’s all well and good, but you have to work up a real sweat to get all those benefits, right?
It turns out that walking at a pace that elevates your heart but would still allow you to carry on a conversation is fast enough to enjoy all of the benefits of walking mentioned above.
Even if you’re walking for weight loss, experts recommend that you alternate intervals of brisk walking with periods of walking at an easier pace for the biggest calorie burn. Walking hills or stairs is another way to help increase muscles tone and burn extra calories.
Form is key here, too. Keep that tummy engaged, shoulders down, arms loose, and head up. Just be sure to listen to your body and slow down or stop for a while if you experience joint or back pain.
Be Present for the Biggest Boost
Of course, I could not write an article on walking without mentioning the fact that walking while practicing present moment awareness or “mindfulness” makes this form of exercise even more powerful.
Mindful walking doesn’t have to be slow walking. In fact, it’s easier to get “in the zone” when your pace is steady, rather that moseying. Turn off the music, take some deep breaths, pay attention to your surroundings, and walk with purpose and you’ll be positioning yourself for not just a longer, but also a more sustainable and enjoyable exercise routine and life.
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