A big fear that paralyses may stop us from jumping on the health bandwagon, is our lack of ability to commit to structured exercise, for whatever reason that may be. I see this so often, and I think some of us give up mentally (due to our fear of exercise) before we even properly begin, not a recipe of success. Although I suggest you start working on implementing a variety of exercise in your day, I want to clear something up. Exercise is NOT ESSENTIAL for weight loss. In fact, studies show that 80% of weight loss is a result of dietary changes alone.
That said, you are by no means off the hook regarding exercise! But if a fear of dedicated cardio exercise is off putting then fear not, and just start walking for weight loss (if your body permits it) In conjunction with a healthy, protein based diet, you can see huge benefits , not only in how your clothes fit, but your mood and positivity, at a cost of absolutely ZERO!
Now, although I am sure you are very aware of how to put one foot in front of the other. I thought I would give you a few tips to spice it up and really get the most out of walking.
1. Engage your core
The core muscles are ESSENTIAL in everything we do, and they need constant exercise and engagement to keep them in check. Many of us neglect our core through a series of bad habits, causing these muscles to get weak. Examples includes slumping, walking or sat whilst hunched over, not sitting upright and most commonly, sticking out our belly, and consequently causing sometimes excruciating back pain.
The good news, or should I say great news is, that working those muscles is very straightforward, and can be done everywhere and anywhere. By engaging these muscles whilst you walk, you will strengthen your core which will in turn support your lower back, preventing the lower back-pain often associated with walking. Understand that the abdominal and back muscles work together and use that understanding to your advantage. If either muscle group is out of whack, the other takes the hit and compromises in the form of pain. The backache you feel, is generally a reflection of the lack of strength in your abdominal muscles.
Although every trainer has their very own unique way of explaining how to engage these muscles. Pilates and yoga instructors can also give you some fab analogies to help you work these hero muscles.
My teachings of engaging your core may not be the most eloquent, but I am sure you will get the idea. Failing that, ask Mr Google or Youtube.
- Tuck your tailbone (pelvis) in slightly under your body. This adjustment will cause some movement on your tummy, all good.
- Imagine you are stopping the flow of a wee mid stream. The muscles that you would use to stop the flow of urine are the ones you need to contract and hold in whilst walking.
- Pull your belly in from your naval as if you were zipping up a tight pair of jeans.
And presto, an exercise for your abdominals without a sit up or crunch in sight. Being mindful of these minor adjustments during your walk, will eventually become a habit, something which is invaluable now and in later life when things start going south.
Consider the following
- Ankle Support,
Our feet are the foundation of most of our daily activities, yet so many of us ignore the need for quality footwear and walk for long distances in flimsy footwear such as thongs or cheap ballet flats. These shoes may look a bit cuter than trainers or sneakers, but as well as giving you a flat foot, the soles are often so thin, there is nowhere for the impact of each foot strike to be absorbed, causing the impact and pressure to be directed to our hips, knees and lower back, and a great deal of pain in the process.
The function of the arch is to provide a natural cushioning to the joints when our feet strike the ground, thus preventing the impact from going to our knees and hips. However, our love for thongs and pretty shoes (I am guilty too), can be a significant factor in actually flattening our arch, leaving us with little space for bounce every time we strike the ground with our feet.
When choosing footwear for walking, look for a shoe that offers good ankle and bridge support. Most trainers are perfect for this, although do a proper check on the inside sole (lately it has become quite trendy for sports manufactures to omit the essential bridge support). Additionally to supporting our arch, the correct footwear will prevent you from using your toes to grip your shoes, like we do in thongs. This gripping action puts the focus of our walking on the small muscles of the toes rather than the more muscular (and much stronger) heel and ball of the foot, causing referred pain to the joints.
3. Foot Direction
This is something many of us are either born with, or adopt as we become wider or simply mimic like others. If our hips grow considerably, our feet automatically begin to point outwards to balance the additional weight and keep us stable. This does a great job of preventing us from toppling over, however, our feet are not designed to point in directions other than the direction they are walking in. As our feet point outwards during both our stationery stance and walking, the pressure is directed to areas in our knees and hips that are too weak (structurally) for this amount of impact. Thus giving us backache and knee problems.
The same applies if our heals point outwards, overpronation or super nation. Again this could be habitual, and if it's in its early stages can be easily corrected. Either way, it would be wise to see a medical professional that can give you a guide how you can minimise damage and pain. However, if it is only a very slight, simply being aware of it can also help, although I strongly advise professional help as a first step.
4. Walk tall
This is not only a massive confidence booster, but it actually causes a difference to our insides on a physiological level. You may feel the day has been shitty, but by raising your head, pulling your shoulders back and you can instantly boost your mood, and inevitably speed of your walk. This change in our posture may sound too small to be of significance, but you would be quite surprised. So when your Mum was telling you to stand up straight, she knew what she was talking about.
A few cues would be to imagine you are carrying a large grapefruit between your chin and chest and your shoulder blades away from your ears as if you are trying to stuff them into your back pockets of the imaginary tight jeans, holding your tummy in.
5. Heel First
The final tip I would like to suggest is to notice how you walk. Ideally your body is designed to walk heel first then the rest of the foot, thereby the greatest impact of the strike is taken by the solid heal. However, if you walk with your toes first and cannot correct it through your own willpower, see your doctor for a referral to a specialist as before.
We can be guilty of underestimating the importance of how we walk, and this is of such importance. Walking is great exercise, but done incorrectly, it can create a chain reaction of pain. By paying a little more attention to your walking technique, you can not only improve it, but get better at it with limited pain, and of course drop a few kilos.
Yours in wellness