The outside world invites you to go for a walk
Not being interested in running is no excuse. We should all reap the benefits of fresh air and light exercise
Walking with a companion – whether human or canine – can keep you motivated. Photograph: Thinkstock
Running isn’t for everyone. I bet you never thought I would say that. I love to run. I love the freedom, the scenery and the fresh air. I love that it’s often the only time of the day I’m detached from my phone and computer. I love exploring somewhere new, or running with a friend I haven’t seen for a while. I particularly love running in autumn, when I watch the leaves change colour each week.
Open to everyone
The good news is that you don’t need to be a runner to experience these feelings. The outdoors
are open to everyone. Whether you walk, run or cycle you can still take advantage of the wonders of the cool autumn air, the crisp leaves and the fading light. You don’t need to be fit to exercise. You just need to get started and do something. No matter what age you are, it’s not too late to start.
The same motivation, discipline and training principles apply to walking as to running. You still need to make the time, quit the excuses and make a conscious effort to follow a training plan if you wish to get fitter, stronger and feel better. If you can get yourself out the door, a whole world awaits you.
Once you have your doctor’s approval to exercise, walking is one of the healthiest and cheapest ways to get moving. You can literally start from your front door. All you need is a comfortable pair of shoes and to be willing to make an effort to get moving. Like all exercise programmes, if you experience pain or discomfort, talk to your doctor. Start gradually and increase your distance by no more than five minutes each week.
Commit to making the time for yourself three days a week. Start with a walk that you know will be manageable. This could be five minutes or longer, depending on your current fitness. Don’t worry about how far you go. Focus instead on building the routine. Walk at a pace where you can breathe comfortably and talk normally. Try this walk three times in your first week and in the following week add an extra couple of minutes. Continue to build your distance gradually until you are at a stage where you can walk comfortably for 30 minutes. Once here, now you can start to add in the fitness extras. You can do some speed work, hills, and vary your pace and terrain. If you set out to walk an unachievable distance or at an unsustainable speed in the first few weeks, it will do nothing but turn you off walking and make you feel more unfit than you think you are. Be patient. Give yourself a month for your body to adapt to this new routine.
Shake it up
Many people who have been walking for years have plateaued. Their bodies have adapted to their regular walk and it is no longer a challenge. It’s important to vary your walk by adding variety or distance. Try an alternative route, include more hills, vary your pace, choose a different terrain or focus on good technique.
I see many “speed walkers” who are so focused on going fast and getting home that their bodies are tight and tense from their shoulders to their toes. They are often carrying niggles or injuries, as they are not listening to their body but focused only on the destination.
Even if you are reasonably fit, when did you last take 20 or 30 minutes for yourself to walk without the purpose of getting somewhere in a hurry? Many of us look tense, tight and uncomfortable when walking. We are all so stressed in our daily lives that exercise can often be another item on a to-do list. Rather than focusing on getting it done, focus on relaxing your body when walking. This will help you arrive home with a clearer head, fewer worries, more energy and positive attitude.
Technique is key to pain-free movement whether you are walking or running. Walk tall, walk relaxed and think about how your body feels right now. We joke in our running classes, telling our students to imagine they are
wearing only swimwear. That image encourages most of us to lengthen our spine and walk tall.
Slouching at the waist puts more pressure on the knees and hips, and the legs have to work harder. Your skeleton is there to support your body. Choose to walk tall. Notice whether you are gripping your toes and your fingers when you walk. Shake them out and relax.
You will notice your breathing is also less of an effort when your body is tall and there is more space for your lungs to take in air.
Stay on track
There will be days when you won’t feel like going out. We all can create excuses on these days, but it’s a lot harder to explain your excuses to someone else. Why do we always meet someone for a coffee or a pint to catch up? You’ll solve the problems of the world more effectively on a walk with your friend than over a drink. Make it easier on yourself by getting a walking buddy and keep each other motivated. And sometimes a canine buddy is even better than a human one. Evidence shows that older people who are most active are those who have a dog. The dog won’t listen to your excuses about being too busy or tired. The dog won’t mind the cold or the rain. The dog will be deaf to your excuses. (Though they won’t be able to counter your arguments. Not verbally, anyway.)
Why not now?
The longer you put off getting started, the harder it will be to get moving. You are not getting any younger. Our sedentary lifestyles have been linked to so many modern diseases. Choose to take responsibility for your fitness and wellbeing and make the decision to move this autumn. A whole new world is waiting on your doorstep. Take a step outside.
Mary Jennings is founder and running coach with ForgetTheGym.ie, training beginners and marathoners and everyone in between to enjoy running and stay injury free. To sign up for any of our Get Running courses, see irishtimes.com/getrunning