Is it possible to make your walk interesting and enjoyable but still achieve the health benefits? Exercise needs to be stimulating – something to look forward to, not a chore.
Walking is great exercise for seniors – not impactive on the creaking joints, inexpensive, local and social. So many benefits, but it can be easy to fall into a rut and when that happens the temptation is to stop looking forward to your walk. So easy then to slump in front of the tv. An early grave lies that way.
How to liven up your walk? How can you add meaning, purpose, enjoyment? Here are a few ideas.
Map your walk
There are numerous apps that will track and record your route. MapMyWalk allows you to “Log any kind of workout using just your phone or with your favourite device” and offers support and motivation from your friends and all the motivational data you could wish for.
Other (free) app options include:
- Fitbit App Mobile Tracker
- Walkmeter GPS
- Footpath Route Planner
- Go Jauntly
- Nike Run Club
The World Walking group claims to “help motivate people to walk more for health and happiness” and their website offers links to groups around the world. Walking is a great social activity, and if World Walking is not for your there will definitely be a walking club in your location. If there isn’t – start one!
The great thing about walking is that there are no rules. Why not explore that piece of local woodland – take a magnifying glass and look at the flora and insects. Or gen up on the vegetation or animal tracks. Nature is such a source of wonder and amazement – you only have to stop and look. You won’t win any prizes for speed, tracking your route won’t work – but wandering around outdoors is still great exercise and good for the soul.
Scientific American has an article on “The Benefits of Applying Mindfulness to Exercise“. As I now know, mindfullness is “a type of meditation in which you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment.” Advocates of this approach claim that by tuning into your environment and the sensations in your body as you walk, it can help you to focus on the present moment. You could, for instance, notice five things in nature you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.
These type of mental exercises can turn your walk from a chore into a period of meditation and calmness, from which you can draw benefits beyond physical exercise.
Set a goal
Olympic athletes set a goal for each and every training session. Walkers for fitness can do that too, albeit in a less intensive manner. A goal can either be distance or time, single or cumulative. A distance goal can be to reach a certain point, or a longer circular route. If your routine walk takes 30 minutes, why not try to extend that to 40 minutes – explore that path, road or trail and who knows what you’ll find?
If you are a record keeper (assisted by the aformentioned apps) you can set an accumulative goal – say mile per day for 26 days (voila, a marathon!). Letting your friends and family know can be a great motivator, or you can just enjoy the quiet satisfaction of setting a goal and achieving it.
Goal setting should obey the SMART business rules (Specific, Measured, Achievable, Realistic, Time related) – and having achieved your goal you can pause for breath and find another target.
This is a technique borrowed from the running fraternity, but it can be applied to walking too. Fartlek is “Play around with speed to improve your mind-body awareness, mental strength and stamina” so if your motivation lies in that direction, try varying your pace on your walk. Target that distant lampost or tree, put on a 30 second spurt – anything to vary your routine and stimulate your senses.
Use your tech
You can carry your own entertainment system around with you these days – a mobile phone can deliver your music, podcast, radio program or other distractions to you ear without disturbing your exercise. It’s a great way to learn new skills, keep up to date with what’s going on around you or just lose yourself in your favourite album or artist.
Get a dog
I post elsewhere about dog ownership in retirement, but having Fido bring you his lead and big appealing eyes is a great motivator. It could make your walk interesting if you bring your dog along, and it usually prompts social interaction with other owners.
Dogs need exercise, so do humans – could be a great combination?
Exercise needs to be a part of a senior’s lifestyle. And walking can have great benefits if undertaken frequently and with sufficient vigour and purpose. But making a walk interesting will allow you to anticipate and plan, add to your enjoyment of the experience and make you look forward to the next one. With apologies to Nike – Just Do It!