After a winter spent cooped up inside, the chance to enjoy a walk is a welcome reprieve from the monotony of spending so much time indoors. Sure, your at-home workouts are keeping you in shape, but a daily walk can boost your mental health and has many social and emotional benefits.
“Walking allows you to see other people and say hello at a safe distance. That brief social interaction is enough to boost your mood and make you smile. It’s also a nice change of scenery,” said Michele Stanten, an ACE-certified trainer and author of “Walk Off Weight.” “I like taking socially-distanced walks with a friend. We’re able to spread far apart while carrying on a conversation. It allows you to physically be with a friend and exercise,” she said.
Walking also offers the opportunity to connect with nature, relieve stress and bring more mindfulness to your day. “Although walking is a benefit at any time, going for a meditative walk during quarantine is of particular value,” said Alexis Santos, a meditation teacher featured on Ten Percent Happier, a mindfulness and meditation app. “Going for a walk helps to break the patterns of thought and anxiety that we may be getting swept up into. It’s a great way to push the reset button.”
If you’re spending most of your day sitting in front of your computer, walking is also an excellent way to reduce pain. “Your joints stiffen up throughout the day, especially if you’re sitting often, so walking helps loosen things up and improve blood circulation,” Stanten said.
Ready to mask up and go for a walk? Stanten and Santos share how to turn your socially-distanced walks into a workout or a meditative experience.
How to burn more calories and build strength while walking
Stanten gave pointers on how to supercharge your daily walk:
- Walk with good posture. “Stand up tall and bend your arms, keeping them close to the body — not flailing them up high,” Stanten said. Contrary to what most people think, she advised taking shorter steps. “Land your foot in front of your body to move more fluidly and faster. Taking larger steps makes it harder to pull your body forward,” she said.
- Change up the terrain. Walk on grass, sand, dirt paths, flat roads, up hills and down hills to challenge your body. “If you can find a hill to walk on, it will provide a great incline and get your heart rate going. The wind resistance also feels different on a hill and makes it more challenging to move against it,” Stanten said.
- Pick up the pace. Incorporate intervals into your walk by alternating between bouts of intense effort with a slower-paced trot. “Aim to walk towards something, like a lamp post or stop sign. Walk fast for 30 seconds or one block and walk slower for 60 seconds or two blocks,” Stanten said. Listening to music? Speed up with the chorus of a song and slow down during the verses. Count the number of steps you take during an interval and try to beat that number in the same amount of time.
- Incorporate strength exercises. Who says walking has to be all cardio? Stanten recommended mixing in some bodyweight exercises, like lunges with rotation, heel raises, pushups and squats. “You can also bring a longer resistance band with you and loop it around a sturdy pole to do lat pull-downs and rows,” Stanten said. Use mini bands for lateral squat walks and glute kickbacks.
How to take a meditative walk to reduce stress
Santos shared tips to make your walk more mindful:
- Be mindful of your surroundings. To make your walk more relaxing, Santos said choosing more peaceful walking paths can help. “If possible, find walks that have some nature elements like trees and water. These tend to be soothing for the mind,” he said.
- Focus on your own thoughts. If you can’t find isolated walking paths, Santos said working with your own thoughts can be effective in easing the mind. “When you see people not wearing masks, Santos said you can turn your negative thoughts into a more positive wish, like ‘may they be safe and healthy.’ It’s important that our efforts to stay healthy don’t slide into fear and anxiety of each other,” Santos cautioned.