This week we will look to the future; ways you can progress your walking program and how to maintain it after the challenge has ended. We will also look at some simple stretches to help you avoid injury and keep your joints mobile and muscles flexible as you build your strength and endurance.

Ways to progress your walking plan

A simple way to progress your walking is to increase your distance or walk time. Adding five to ten minutes to your walk per week, means that by week three, you will be walking 15-30 minutes daily. It can be useful to write up a simple progressive walking plan and tick it off as you achieve your walking distance or time goals.

Walking is an aerobic activity, so pace is important and another easy way to make your walk more challenging. Brisk walking has been found to help with bone health, particularly in those with osteoporosis or osteopenia. So, pick up the pace. You can also alternate between a steady pace and periods of faster walking to try some interval walking. Start with one to two minutes of a steady pace, followed by 30-60 seconds of faster walking. Aim to increase the ?pace time or the number of times you do this. Research has found that interval walking is another great way to improve your fitness.

Uphill or inclined walking routes increase the demand on both your heart and muscles. It requires more energy and therefore increased demand on your body’s systems compared to flat walking. It is for this reason you will burn more calories walking uphill and challenge your heart rate. Another great benefit of uphill walking is a greater focus on your posterior chain muscles (glutes, hamstrings, calves, and spinal muscles). These muscles are important for walking and upright postures and uphill walking helps to build strength in these muscles.

Weights can also help to add challenge to your walk. Ankle weights or small hand dumbbell weights are a popular way to increase your effort while walking. The key to adding weight is to start small and increase your weight slowly overtime. Ankle weights can place extra load on your ankle joints and change the way you walk. So, caution should be taken when applying ankle weights. A weighted vest can be a good option for those that want that extra challenge. The vest places the weight over the trunk and not the small joints of the hand or ankle. It is often advisable to check in with your physiotherapist before applying extra weight to your walk to make sure you are a good candidate for this type of progression.

Maintaining your walking plan

Over the past three weeks, you have begun forming a new healthy routine and behaviour. Now is the perfect time to keep this momentum and turn this walking plan into a daily habit.

Social interaction and community are also key to maintaining your new exercise routine. Connect with like-minded people, join your local walking club, or set one up if your community doesn’t have one. Walking with friends or others promotes prosocial behaviours that enhance psychological wellbeing, creates better social relationships, improve your physical health, and foster greater adherence to exercise longevity. CL

Five simple stretches for walkers

Here are five simple stretches you can do to warm up for your walk or cool down. Each stretch should be held for 20-30 seconds, moderate intensity and repeated two-three times on each leg.

Calf stretch

Calf stretch

  • Standing with hands on a wall in front. Put the leg to be stretched behind with the heel on the floor and toes pointing directly forward.
  • Extend that back leg, straightening your knee, feeling the stretch on your calf muscle. Keep your back straight, bending the front knee to go deeper into the stretch. Hold the stretch.
  • Standing quad stretch.

    Standing quad stretch

  • Stand holding onto the back of a chair or wall.
  • Grab the top of the ankle-the same side ankle to the hand holding the chair/wall-with the free hand and pull your foot towards your buttock until you feel a gentle stretch in front of the thigh.
  • Keep your knees in line and gently squeeze the bum muscle of the leg you are stretching, pressing your hip forward to feel an extra stretch.
  • Hold the stretch, keeping your lower back neutral.
  • Standing figure 4 stretch.

    Standing figure 4 stretch

  • Stand with your feet together. Bend your knees as if you are sitting onto a chair.
  • Place your ankle onto your opposite knee, balancing on one leg.
  • Sit lower into the stretch. Switch legs.
  • This stretch can also be done lying on your back to make it easier if balancing on one leg is difficult for you.
  • Hamstring stretch.

    Hamstring stretch

  • Lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
  • Raise one leg and grasp behind your knee or thigh.
  • Press your foot up towards the sky, pulling your toes towards your face until you feel a stretch on your hamstring.
  • Alternatively, you can use a strap or belt, looping it around your toes providing some assistance with the stretch. Repeat both sides.
  • Hip flexor stretch

    Hip flexor stretch

  • Kneel on one knee with the other leg in front, creating a 90° angle with the opposite hip. You can use a table or chair for support.
  • Tilt your pelvis backwards to flatten your lower back and transfer your weight forward until you feel a gentle stretch on the front of your hip of the lower leg.
  • Maintain the position, relax, and don’t arch your lower back.
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