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Walk Your Way To Happiness

04/10/2017 03:24 EDT | Updated 07/18/2017 13:04 EDT

Around this time last year I wrote 7 tips to running your first 5K and now, as the warmer weather returns, I'm sure outdoor exercise is once again top of mind for many people. Lately I've been thinking that while there are copious amounts of running tips online, one of the simplest and effective forms of aerobic activity does not get the attention it so greatly deserves.

Walking, like most aerobic activity, is good for your heart and lungs. It strengthens cardiovascular fitness all while toning your muscles and burning calories. Walking is low impact, so it doesn't have the same potential for injury as jogging or running. It's also a bodyweight exercise, meaning it will help improve your strength, posture, bone density and stamina. Walking aids blood circulation, lymphatic health (to rid the body of toxins and waste products) and helps regulate blood sugar.

Beyond the physical benefits research indicates that walking can help improve your mood as well.

According to Psychology Today, walking as opposed to sitting or standing will result in an increased feeling of sustainable energy. Walking outdoors has even extra benefits, because you're exposed to sunlight which can help fight Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). When you participate in bouts of vigorous exercise chemicals called endorphins are released. These 'feel-good' chemicals along with a hormone produced in the brain called serotonin provides a feeling of happiness.

Defining the different paces

Leisure walking - walking at a comfortable pace (perceived as light). The heart rate increases however you feel comfortable with your breathing and can maintain the pace quite easily.

Brisk walking - walking at a moderate or brisk pace (perceived as somewhat medium to hard intensity). The heart rate and breathing rate increases.

Power walking - walking at vigorous or fast-as-possible pace (perceived as hard to strenuous intensity). The heart rate is elevated and there may be intermittent periods of breathlessness. Power walkers should aim to walk at a pace equal or greater than 4-6 km per hour.

Ensuring appropriate technique to achieve your goal

Just like any other form of exercise proper technique and having a goal in mind are two very important factors. Track your steps so that you can accumulate a minimum of 5,000 steps or higher each walk. This will help you attain the recommended 10,000 steps (or more) each day that is prescribed for good health. Try using technology to measure intensity as this will help you achieve your health goals too. MYZONE technology is one of the best and most simple ways to monitor your intensity through heart rate.

When you walk ensure that you are allowing your heel to land first. As you take the movement from heel towards the ball of your foot, try to make a slight rolling motion (heel-ball-push off) as this will give you more power when you push off with your foot. As you stride with your legs, squeeze your gluteal muscles and keep your abdominals braced with your chest lifted. Even though it is okay to allow your hips to swivel slightly as you stride as this will help you increase your pace.

Keep your strides moderate in length, shorter is better when you are working on increasing your pace (to a power walk). Swing your arms vigorously alongside your body and keep your elbows slightly bent with your hands low by your side. Maintain a strong, upright posture as you walk as this will help stabilize your spine and protect your back. Do this by bracing your abdominals and squeezing your gluteal (butt) muscles.

Walk your way to happiness program

Beginner:

• Monday to Friday: 10 minutes at a regular (leisure) to brisk (moderate) pace

• Sunday: 20 minutes at a regular pace

• Increase the pace weekly and add five minutes every two weeks

Intermediate:

• Monday, Wednesday and Friday: 20 minutes at a moderate (brisk) pace

• Tuesday and Thursday: 25 minutes at a moderate (brisk) pace

• Sunday: 30 minutes a regular pace

• Increase the pace weekly and add five minutes every two weeks

Advanced:

• Monday, Wednesday and Friday: 20 minutes at a vigorous pace

• Tuesday and Thursday: 30 minutes at a brisk pace

• Sunday: 45 minutes at a regular pace

• Increase pace weekly and add five minutes every two weeks

Power walking for a minimum of 20 minutes three to four times a week has been shown to improve mood, self-esteem and overall wellness.

Start with what you can do, even if it's 10 minutes, and build the distance and intensity. You know you are achieving this goal if you can go further in the same period of time on a week-to-week basis. Change the terrain to vary your walks and you'll be on the path to happiness.

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