Stay fit while social distancing with this simple trick - walking

  • With everything moved online again during Hong Kong’s fourth wave of Covid-19, you can still get your body moving
  • Regular exercise is important for your physical and mental health
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Walking is the perfect exercise - it's easy, free and doesn't require any equipment!

School’s out (and you’ve been doing PE classes on Zoom/Classroom/ Homework for ages anyway), gyms and pools are closed, and your usual Wednesday footie session is off while social distancing rules are super strict again.

But for teenagers, like anyone else, regular exercise is really important. If you’re lacking motivation, start simple: go for a walk. What’s more, it’s one of the best forms of exercise around.

“It’s absolutely an exercise, and one that the more you put into it, the more you get out of it,” said John Long, owner of a sports gear shop in the state of Minnesota, in the US.

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Since the stay-at-home order was put in place there, walking has exploded in popularity.

“Walking is up 8,000 per cent from what it was a month ago,” Long said. “Everybody is getting outside.”

That’s the beauty of it, said Michele Stanton, a professional walking coach. “Everyone can do it,” she said. “You don’t need special equipment, you can do it anywhere and it’s considered a moderate-intensity activity.”

The benefits of walking are myriad and proven, Stanton said.

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“There’s tonnes of research showing the benefits of walking: It reduces heart disease, stress and the risk of some cancers,” she said. It also results in fewer injuries than higher-intensity exercises, such as running.

But, as Stanton says, “There’s more than one way to walk.”

“You can go for a leisurely walk, even a slow, meditative one, or you can make it a real workout,” she said.

Long and Stanton agree that anyone will benefit from any walking they do, be it a five-minute midday break or a 45-minute power walk.

Walking is great because you can do it with others, but still social distance.

But there are a few simple ways to make walking more beneficial.

If you haven’t been exercising much, start slow. “A 20-minute walk is a good thing,” Long said. “If you’re fairly fit, 30 to 40 minutes is probably about right.”

More important than the length of walk is the regularity.

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“Keep it consistent,” Long said. Set a schedule and try to maintain it, whether that means a brief walk every day, or a longer walk three times a week. You always can work your way to longer and more frequent walks.

If you’re already fairly fit, work on your pace.

“Be mindful of your pace and vary it,” Long said. “Maybe choose a route that has hills or go off-trail.”

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Walking faster isn’t about a longer stride. Instead, Stanton recommends trying these things to improve your form: Bend your arms rather than keeping them straight. Instead of lengthening your stride, make it shorter, lift your knee (as you would if you were marching) and put your lead foot only about 10-15cm in front of your back foot. Aim for a smooth stride by landing on your heel, rolling through and pushing off with the ball of your foot and your toes. Stand tall, roll your shoulders back, lift your chest and, if you’re on flattish ground, look out 3-6 metres in front of you rather than down.

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You may want to try intervals of faster-paced walking or running, alternating with a slower walk.

“Intervals are a great way to get your heart rate up,” Stanton said.

Try increasing your pace for 30 seconds, then recover for the next 60 seconds.

Long suggests creating your own circuit workout, alternating walking, running and some simple exercises like squats, lunges, push-ups or sit-ups.

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Of course, any exercise is only partly about your body. Lots of us also crave the social connection that a gym class or a being on a basketball team offers. And that turns out to be a very good thing.

“Having a buddy increases the likelihood you’re going to stick to it,” Stanton said. That could mean popping in your earbuds and chatting to a friend on the phone, or encouraging a friend or family member to walk with.

If being chummy doesn’t work for you, engaging in a little competition might. If that’s the case, there are plenty of ways to keep yourself motivated, Long said.

Consider setting up a virtual challenge with a friend or joining one online. World Walking and Fitbit are among the sites that offer online challenges in tracking steps, distance or time spent walking.

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Another thing that might keep you walking? The pay-off.

“Pay attention to the benefit you’re getting,” advised Stanton.

“Say you had a tough day ... and you feel down. You’ll likely be in a better mood after you take a walk,” she said.

You’re also likely to feel better, eat better and sleep better.

After all, even when we’re stuck at home, “our bodies,” she said, “were meant to move.”

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