If you’re reasonably fit and healthy, then get out walking now. If not, then consult your GP – there’s a very good chance that walking will improve your situation.
Regular walking, like all ‘aerobic’ exercise, can have a dramatic effect on cardio-respiratory fitness or ‘aerobic power’. Regular exercise carried out three times a week for 30 minutes or more at the right intensity will result in increases in aerobic power. The intensity of walking for fitness benefits varies according to the age and fitness of the individual, but generally, ‘brisk is best’. A simple way to work out how briskly you should walk is to aim to walk 'fast without overexertion'. You should just about be able to hold a conversation while you are walking - the ‘talk test’.
For the more technically minded, you should aim for the ‘training zone'. To calculate this, take your age away from 220. Then try to walk so that your heart rate is at least 45% of this figure. So, for example, a 40 year old would be aiming to have a heart rate of at least 81 beats per minute (220 - 40 x 0.45).
You don't have to head for an area well-known for walking routes - local beaches, canals, rivers or woods are ideal. Check out clubs and guided walks in your area - you might be surprised at the opportunities! And, on holiday abroad, pack walking shoes and rucksack for a break from sea and sand.
Control of body weight occurs when the calories taken in as food are balanced with the calories expended through walking and other physical activities. The key issue for weight control is to maximise the total volume of calories used (at any intensity) and to combine this with healthy eating. Walking alters fat metabolism so that fat is burned up instead of sugars, helping to reduce weight.
It is important not to over-estimate your fitness when you start taking walking more seriously. For instance, if you’re regularly clocking up ten mile walks in Suffolk, then tackling a ten mile walk in the mountainous Lake District will come as a shock! Common sense and remembering that you’re walking for recreation not as an endurance event should help curb your ambition. You’ll be surprised, though, how quickly you can enjoy longer, tougher walks without collapsing at the end.
On longer walks, a key element in maintaining spirits and stamina is maintaining a steady intake of food and drink (not alcohol!). Keeping your body fuelled up will keep you going and keep your spirits high. Running out of water, in particular, can sap stamina and your will.
The other key factor in keeping spirits high is, of course, the state of your feet. Make sure you buy footwear that fits properly, footbeds that support you properly and socks that offer cushioning and moisture transfer. Don’t ignore ‘hot spots’ or chafing as you walk but tackle these potential problems before they become actual problems. With modern sock fabrics and boot styles and materials, you should be able to avoid blisters and other foot-related issues that can ruin a walk or, even worse, a walking holiday.