Swerving the gym for fear of Omicron but still looking for a fitness resolution that’ll make you mentally and physically fitter? Try guided walking, says convert Jen Barton.
Over the past couple of years, we’ve all come to love a walk. The first lockdown saw many of us value time spent in nature more than ever and with Omicron cases rising around the UK, we’re walking again to avoid gyms and other indoor spaces.
For me, however, walking has always been a chore; without a dog or a buggy to push, I’d forgotten how to walk happily on my own. My outings inevitably left me feeling sluggish and stressed out, rather than energised and at peace. And then, I discovered trainer-led walking programmes and power walking playlists.
After only a few weeks of listening to guided walking workouts, I’ve become a pedestrian who walks with purpose.
I feel fitter, happier and more energised. My walks are turning into a way to squeeze an extra 20 or 30-minute workout into my day. Better yet, I keep finding excuses to go outside again, or take a slightly longer route through the local park. My glutes – which various physios and PTs have told me “don’t like to ‘turn on’”– are even starting to get involved.
Walking with purpose: from ‘hot girl walks’ to power walking
Walking has long been recommended as a low-intensity way to keep fit and stay active. It’s known to improve mental wellbeing, as well as lowering the risk of developing various physical health issues.
For many of us, the pandemic offered a route into walking. Lockdown limited our activities but made walking a lot more appealing (figures from TfL in December 2020 found that 57% of Londoners walked more for exercise and 42% walked for longer than they had pre-pandemic). That shouldn’t come as a surprise; I’ve found that the most time I spend walking, the more I think about how I can increase my time spent outside – whether that’s swapping the treadmill for a run, or finding excuses to go for short walks.
Tiktok has its own take on how to improve your daily walk. #HotGirlWalk has 49.5 million views and is all about walking while thinking positive thoughts. It’s all about avoiding dwelling on drama, and instead, thinking about things that you’re grateful for – and concentrating on how hot you are while considering the goals you want to achieve. TikToker Mia Lind, who started the trend during the pandemic, has helpfully made a playlist with 285 songs for those tempted to try it.
She walks four miles daily, but her idea of manifesting gratitude and thinking happy thoughts can be applied to any kind of walking (or strutting) you have time for.
While a ‘hot girl walk’ puts mindset first, power walking emphasises physical speed. The high-energy, low-impact cardio workout sees your walking speed increase from around 5km/hr to around 8km/hr. Power walking increases heart rate and improves overall fitness, aerobic capacity, endurance and energy levels.
“Doing this form of exercise consistently will lead to stronger muscles, especially in your core and legs, as well as boosting cognitive function. Intentional walking will benefit the calves, hamstrings and, importantly, the glutes,” says Melissa Kendter, global trainer at Tone & Sculpt app.
Benefits of power walking
Kendter explains that strong glutes can reduce the risk of back and knee pain, help maintain good posture and benefit power and balance in many sports.
“Exercising the hamstrings through walking counteracts tightness caused by prolonged sitting – particularly important now we’re WFH again,” she adds.
You can motivate yourself on a powerwalk using playlists on Spotify and YouTube (Leslie Sansone has indoor walking videos of various lengths, while Gina from Up to the BEat Fit serves up music-based power walks for each decade and offers a wide range of beginner walks too).
Music does make a difference in how you feel when you walk. A 2020 study found that listening to music at a higher tempo increased the benefits of walking while reducing perceived effort (try synchronising the beats-per-minute of the music you’re listening to with your walking pace: a brisk walk is around 120bpm).
If you’re after more structure on an outdoor walk, fitness apps like Aaptiv and Peloton offer themed, audio-guided walking workouts. These are designed to suit different music tastes, time limits and intensity levels and can help you figure out the difference between casual, brisk and power walking.
Apple Fitness+’s Time to Walk is another guided walking experience that includes interviews and songs from celebrities such as Dolly Parton. Headspace offers users guided walking meditations, for indoors or out, to help your mind stay in the present on your walk.
How the natural world can help you walk with purpose
Power walking isn’t the only way to benefit from your daily walks. Mindful walks that focus on what’s happening to our bodies and minds, as well as our surroundings, are another way to tune in whenever we step out.
“Mindful walking isn’t a chore – it is not about reaching a specific destination or a substitute for when a car or public transport is unavailable,” says Gympass personal trainer Samantha Robbins.
Mindful walking outdoors can help us feel closer to nature, which in turn leaves us more relaxed, less stressed and more confident. There’s a scientific, measurable term related to how we experience the natural world known as nature connectedness. Researchers at the University of Derby found that noting down the good things you see in nature, as well as noticing nature in the built environment, can have clinically significant improvements to mental wellbeing.
“You don’t need massive vistas. You could have micro moments where you tune into the lichen on a tree or the mushrooms growing on an old tree stump. It’s those moments that we should stop, pause, admire and appreciate, and it’s from those that we can reap everyday benefits,” Hana Sutch, co-founder and CEO of free walking app Go Jauntly, tells Stylist.
The app is designed to deal with the various barriers to walking that can affect our enjoyment of a walk, like not knowing which direction to go, or whether there are toilets and rest stops on the route. Go Jauntly also encourages a closer connection to nature by identifying the greenest routes nearby, whether you have 25 minutes or an hour to spare.
“It’s not about going on those big massive hikes. It’s everyday walking – getting that activity into your life without having to feel like you’re going somewhere special necessarily. I tend to call them micro-adventures,” says Sutch.
My walks to the Tube, post office and school pick-up used to leave me feeling depleted. Now I’m noticing birds, the sound of my shoes and the feel of light rain on my cheeks (I don’t even mind walking in chilly or wet weather anymore).
I’m also looking up and starting to pay attention to people. According to Sutch, getting attuned to our community is another perk of walking outdoors, which can help people feel more connected and less socially isolated.
How to walk mindfully
Try these tips from Gympass personal trainer Samantha Robbins before you set out on your mindful walk.
- To get started, choose a walk where you feel safe.
- Wear comfortable clothes, and consider walking a bit more slowly if you are used to rushing from A to B.
- Breathe easily but deeply as you take in your surroundings.
- Pay attention to all your senses. Consider how your feet feel, but all your muscles too. Wherever you are, there is likely to be a multitude of stimuli; be present and appreciate them.
For more workout ideas, check out the Strong Women Training Club.