Walk this way to a happier and healthier lifestyle
You don’t have to splash out for special equipment to go walking – all you need is a good pair of shoes, writes MICHELLE MCDONAGH
Walking is one of the oldest and most natural forms of physical activity and, in recent years, has become Ireland’s most popular form of physical activity.
A regular programme of walking keeps your heart strong, improves muscle and bone strength, helps to manage your weight, helps relieve stress and gives you more energy.
And, as Caroline Kelleher, health promotion officer with the Health Service Executive South, says, you don’t have to spend a fortune for special equipment to go walking: all you need is a good pair of shoes and you’re on the road.
Other reasons why walking is so popular is that it appeals to people of all ages and levels of fitness and it can be a sociable activity if you walk with a companion or walking group.
“Approximately half of Irish adults are not active enough for their health and what many people do not realise is that not being physically active carries the same risk of heart disease and stroke as smoking, high blood pressure and raised cholesterol,” says Kelleher.
“The national physical activity guidelines recommend that Irish adults are moderately active for 30 minutes at least five days a week.
“One way to achieve these guidelines, which is open to everyone, is through walking.”
The Irish Heart Foundation’s Slí na Sláinte (Path to Health) initiative has been promoting walking for health since the initiative was established in 1996. It offers a network of signposted, easily accessible walking routes around the country aimed at encouraging people of all ages and abilities to walk for health and leisure.
To date there are more than 190 routes nationwide. Log on to irishheart.ie/slito find out where the routes are and for a list of walking groups in your county.
Urban parks also offer great areas to walk in cities and towns around the country and more than 175 national looped walks have been developed throughout Ireland, ranging from short strolls to longer walks.
As a means of promoting walking as an activity in the community, the Slí na Sláinte initiative also offers walking leader training courses as well as workshops that teach participants all they need to know about walking. Details of courses coming up in 2013 are on the website. Kelleher, who supports a number of local walking groups in Cork, says they are a great way to get active in the new year.
“Many people need that extra bit of encouragement to go for a walk and being part of a group can often give you that extra push to put on your walking shoes and get out and about. These walking groups aim to do just that in a fun and sociable way,” she says.
10 tips to get started in walking
1.If you have not been active for some time or have a health problem, consult your doctor before you start.
2.Start at a level suitable for your age and fitness level. If you are just starting out, walk briskly for 10 minutes two or three times a week. Gradually build up to at least 30 minutes five days a week, or to the total of 150 minutes in the week in other increments. To get even fitter, build up to 60 minutes of brisk walking five days a week, or to the total of 300 minutes in other increments.
3.Warm up and cool down: your body needs time to warm up before you can be active at a moderate intensity, otherwise you risk injury or discomfort. Similarly, as you come to the end of your activity, it is a good idea to include some stretching.
4.If you are new to walking, why not start with well-known walks close to where you live, such as in a local park or along a beach. Start with easy walks, mostly level with a good underfoot surface.
As you get comfortable with these you can venture further afield, trying something a little harder as you grow in confidence.
5.It’s good to keep your posture straight, your head up, back straight, and shoulders level when walking. Try not to lean forward or back at the waist, as this is an easy way to fatigue the body.
6.It’s worth investing in comfortable footwear for walking. If your walking is mainly on the flat, comfortable trainers are perfect. If you’re walking on tracks and trails, then something a bit sturdier, offering ankle support, may be required. A light water-resistant jacket is always recommended for Irish weather. A small backpack and water bottle are also recommended for longer walks.
Walking poles are used by many walkers as in addition to offering good support and reducing impact on knees and other joints, they also offer an upper body workout.
7.Buddy up. Walking with family, friends and other walking enthusiasts is always good and certainly makes the kilometres pass quickly.
8.Plan your walk. Some pre-walk planning is always required to ensure an enjoyable and safe day out. Plan your daily walk during daylight hours and tell someone where you’re walking and when you should be expected back. Carry a mobile phone when out walking.
9.Try to establish a daily walking routine that suits your schedule, getting out for a good walk every day. Once you’re comfortable with walking, start setting a few new targets like extending your walking distance or doing certain walks a bit faster. You may also consider signing up for a three, five or even 10km walking event.
10.Make walking a habit. Try to incorporate walking into your lifestyle at work, at home and at leisure. Walk during your lunch break for 10-15 minutes, walk to meetings or take the stairs instead of the lift. Walk the children to school or take your dog for a walk. Park the car further from the entrance to your destination or get off the bus stop a few stops earlier. Be prepared and bring your walking shoes to work.
For more details, see getactiveireland.ie