Take the first small steps towards better health!
Because it helps to create:
a) cardiovascular fitness for a healthy heart and good circulation.
b) musculoskeletal strength, good for bones, joints and the power of muscles. Improving the strength of the back muscles by steady walking can help back pain.
c) flexibility, with the regular movement of joints and gentle stretching when warming up or cooling down at the start and end of walks, greatly boosting the suppleness of your limbs.
d) positive moods, as even minimal physical exercise causes the body to release endorphins or ‘feel-good’ hormones to give a mental and emotional lift.
Conditions such as back pain, heart problems, diabetes, arthritis, obesity, low immune system, stress and depression can all be helped by a sensible walking programme. Very few medical conditions or medications prevent this low-risk, low-impact form of exercise, but always consult your doctor if you are in any doubt. Most doctors recommend gentle walking to improve general fitness and mental health. If at any time you feel unwell, stop and rest at once.
What do you need?
Walking is a cheap hobby, but to get started it is essential to get some proper walking shoes which will give good support to the feet and so maintain low impact on joints during exercise. These do not need to be expensive. Decathlon sports shop has a basic walking shoe at around 15€.
Other sensible requirements: even on a short walk, you need to take some water with you. Don’t underestimate the importance of this. Carry a small day pack (high on the back is usually best) with bottled water and some fruit or chocolate, if sugar is not a problem for your health. Also take a lightweight hat to keep your head shaded in warm weather. A mobile phone is also a sensible precaution if walking alone.
Then you are ready to walk tall – breathe deep - and take the first small steps towards a radical improvement in your health.
Walking for Health - Building fitness from scratch
The most important thing is to practise regularly. Sudden bursts of walking then days of inactivity are not helpful for building fitness. Planning is also essential for creating a measured programme. Get a good map (IGN bleu) of your area and work out several routes for variety, level gradient and attractive scenery. Make a progress chart and enjoy your achievements!
Little and often is the key – you will be amazed at the results if you have a real commitment to building up your fitness. Walking is also one of the best medicines for worry, anxiety and depression. Try to breathe deeply and look at what is around you as you walk. Take a friend along for company and mutual encouragement.
Programme A (If you have health issues, and your doctor recommends trying to increase your fitness)
Aim for a 10 minute walk three times a week, building to five times in the second week. (This is better than fewer longer walks.)
Time the walk from your house, so you will get a measure of progress as days go by. Walk slowly but steadily, don’t push it for first week. In the second week increase your pace slightly. Try a different direction if you are getting bored with your route (but still time it).
Replace one of your five short walks with a longer one of 30 minutes (or 2 x 15mins). Walk slowly if this helps you to achieve the longer walk. Look for a pleasant location, such as the canal, a wood or the coast.
You should be able to increase your pace now after habitual exercise over the last three weeks. Don’t strain or push too hard, just feel an extra effort in your breathing and heart rate. Go for a 30 minute walk on one day or try 3 days of 15 minutes, with your usual ten minutes on the other days.
Week 5 onwards
Try to walk for 10 minutes every day. Make it part of a routine but also seek out new routes for your longer walk on three days of the week. Find a fairly level 2km route for when you feel like an extra effort, and time yourself.
As a matter of interest, go back and do your original 10 minute route from week 1 – see how much further you can now cover in the same time. This will show you how your heart, lungs, muscles are now stronger – a great result!
Walking for Health – Building fitness
Programme B (If you have no special health problems but are unfit and want to build strength, stamina and fitness)
Start on first day with a basic 20 minute level walk (or 2 x 10 minutes) from your house. Walk at whatever pace is comfortable. Next day repeat.
On Day 3, repeat and, if you are not feeling too tired after the 20mins, add another ten. Rest on Day 4.
For Day 5 plan a route of 1.5-3km and make this your staple work-out. Time it today. On Day 6 do same route and note your time. Walk at a moderate pace. Repeat on Day 7.
Do a basic ten minute walk every day. Walk your longer set route twice and time it. Try a one hour walk in beautiful surroundings at the end of this week – nothing too difficult in gradient, but alternate slow and moderate paces as you go along.
Every day walk for at least 10 minutes. On your set route, walk faster (but no more than slightly out of breath) for 10 minutes to improve your time.
Try to fit in two one hour walks and keep up a good pace for 20 minutes of these.
In future weeks, keep building up new routes of gradually increasing distance, as well as your regular daily walking. Try to include a few hills, and sections of faster pace walking, swinging your arms and breathing deeply and steadily - but don’t go too far too fast.
To go further:
Ask at the local mairie or tourist office for walking routes in your area. These maps are often free of charge, and may include a variety of route lengths and levels of difficulty. Brittany Walks (brittanywalks.com) can also provide ideas for easy walking.
Some useful vocabulary:
sentier – footpath randonnée (pedestre) – walk
boucle – circuit balisage – signage
GR – national footpath longeur – length
vallonné – hilly boueux – muddy
accidenté – uneven liaison – link
facile – easy aucune difficulté – no problem