See ya later, sweaty summer. Autumn is beckoning, and what’s not to love? ‘Tis the season of pumpkin everything, jack-o-lantern carving, googly eyeball-shaped chocolates, and, of course, cooler temperatures enveloped by fall foliage.
Blink and you might miss it. At least here in the Northeast, it feels like winter is constantly hovering and breathing down your neck. Autumn is an afterthought, sandwiched like the pitiful dollop of cream cheese smeared between two halves of an everything-weather bagel.
Maybe you’ve spent the last few months holed up in your basement while screaming profanities at your Peloton, or maybe you totally threw in the towel with your fitness goals because it was too damn hot to breathe. However your summer months have passed you by, now is the perfect time to get serious about moving your body, because the outdoors is so refreshingly accessible.
It turns out that walking is one of the best workouts you can do for your body and mind, and you don’t even need special equipment. Studies show that regular walking conveys health benefits including increased cardiovascular and pulmonary health, stronger muscles and bones, reduced body fat, and lower risk of heart attack and stroke. Plus, walking is consistently associated with positive mental health outcomes including better sleep, improved mood, stress relief, and greater overall well-being.
Ready to pump up the (blood) volume? Follow these walking tips and tricks to turn your next casual stroll into a willful march towards your goal.
Consult with your doctor first.
Okay, don’t panic. For most people, beginning a walking program is totally safe. It’s just one foot in front of the other, right?
But before you go blasting “Eye of the Tiger” to spark that arm-swinging swagger, remember that Benjamin Franklin once warned, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Whenever you embark on a new exercise regimen, make sure you check with your doctor if you have any chronic conditions or troublesome symptoms that may put your health at risk.
Invest in a quality pair of shoes.
Sure, those squishy Crocs you’ve owned for a decade are cute and comfy, but they aren’t doing your feet any favors in the long term. If you’re serious about pursuing a walking program, you need a shoe that’s durable enough to protect your joints and bones.
According to podiatrists, a proper walking shoe should provide stability, arch support, breathability, and flexibility — but most importantly, it should fit the size of your foot! A flimsy, ill-fitting pair of sneakers could trigger the dreaded “-itis”es (tendinitis, plantar fasciitis, bursitis…), or those gnarly bunions that swell up so hideously just in time for a pedicure.
So where do you start your quest for the Holy Grail of footwear? You don’t have to plunge into those daunting stacks of shoeboxes on your own. If you head to your local running store or a chain like Dick’s Sporting Goods, you can request a gait analysis for free. The staff will observe you on the treadmill and offer shoe recommendations based on your walking form, mechanics, and stride.
But don’t let the salesfolk corner you into buying the first pair that makes you feel like Goldilocks (this one was too big; this one was too small; this one fits just right!). Do your research and check out recent reviews of the top women’s walking shoes; then “try before you buy” (I love Amazon Prime Wardrobe for this purpose).
After all, you’re seeking a committed, long-term relationship with your walking program, not just another fall fling. So like the mama told her son in that catchy 60s Motown tune, remember that “you’d better shop around (shop, shop around).”
Set SMART goals.
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New sneaks, who dis? You’ve found the perfect match for your feet and now you’re raring to soak up the sun. But you’re not just meandering aimlessly around your neighborhood — you’ve decided that this season, you’re going to walk with intention.
To make the most of your walking program, one tip is to set goals you hope to achieve through this practice. Maybe you want to reconnect to nature as a means of reconnecting with yourself, a path to meditation and self-discovery, or maybe your best girlfriend just challenged you to join her on a Thanksgiving turkey trot.
Whatever your purpose, the acronymous SMART approach can help you map out your goals and take you to the finish line.
Basically, SMART goals should be:
Specific: Walk for 30 minutes every morning before work.
Measurable: Record time on feet or number of steps per walk.
Attainable: Start small; walk 1 mile per day every other day at first.
Relevant: Ask yourself why this goal is important to you.
Timely: Walk 5K continuously by the end of the month.
For the best chance at success, put your goals in writing or, at the very least, verbalize them to a friend or a spouse. An accountability partner — whether that’s a personal cheerleader who nags you about your progress, or a fellow walker on a similar program — can also help you commit to your goals. Plus, exercise is always more fun with a friend!
Track your progress.
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Gone are the days of clunky foot pedometers and old-school Timex watches. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, fancy fitness trackers are currently all the rage. That doesn’t mean you have to refinance your mortgage just to start a walking program (after all, I did say you don’t need any special equipment). As tracker technology continues to expand, it’s becoming more and more affordable to bang out the basics.
Let’s start with the freebies: apps, apps, and more apps. As long as you have a smartphone, you can track your location and basic walking stats — time, pace, distance, and even calorie burn — with a few clicks on your touchscreen. Available for both iOS and Android, MapMyWalk and Strava are two such apps that are free to download, though they offer premium functions through subscription. And if you need an extra incentive to get out the door? The Charity Miles app donates money to your chosen nonprofit for every mile you walk, run, or ride.
Next we get to the wearables. These gadgets are more high-tech with their ability to track your heart rate on the go and even while you’re at rest. Plus, their built-in GPS tends to be more accurate and precise than the apps.
For beginner fitness enthusiasts, the lightweight Fitbit is an ideal starter smartwatch, with several models selling for under $100 on Amazon. Once you’re farther along in your fitness journey, you can upgrade to the even-more-versatile Garmin or Apple Watch, which — albeit on the pricier side — can play music, track your hydration or menstrual cycle, analyze your workout productivity, estimate your stress level, and perform just about any task aside from cooking your dinner.
I get it, though — not everyone wants to feel chained to a piece of high-falutin technology. What ever happened to making notes with a good old pen and paper? I can’t remember the last time I used a pencil, mostly because I can never read my own handwriting, but there is something magical about journaling in a real, tangible book. Especially if your goals are more spiritual than data-oriented, this meditative method is a perfectly acceptable — and admirable — means to track your progress.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
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Just because the temperature has finally dipped below I-feel-like-I’m-dying degrees, doesn’t mean you should neglect your hydration while you’re walking. Of course, your precise fluid needs will depend on factors like the heat and humidity, the pace at which you’re walking, the time you’re spending on your feet, and your total water intake throughout the day, among other variables.
Nevertheless, here are a few general principles to follow when it comes to hydration and exercise:
1. Avoid (or limit) caffeine and alcohol shortly before you go for a walk. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a strong cup of coffee to boost your energy in the morning. But because coffee and alcohol are diuretics, consuming them too close to exercise could dehydrate you before you even start.
2. Analyze the color of your urine. Yes, that sounds totally gross, but your particular shade of pee can tell you a lot about your hydration level. Ideally, your urine should appear light yellow, like lemonade or a very light beer. If it starts turning the color of an IPA or Stout, you’re headed towards the dehydration danger zone.
3. Supplement with salts. Especially if you’re walking vigorously enough to sweat, add electrolyte tablets or powders to your water. These drinks will replenish your sodium, magnesium, and other vitamins to ensure that your body remains balanced. If you start to feel a muscle spasm or cramping, it’s a good sign that you need electrolytes instead of water alone.
TL;DR: When in doubt, put fluids in your mouth.
Feeling healthy and goal-oriented? Check. Donning proper footwear? Also check. Plus, you have water bottles stuffed in your hydration belt, and your smartwatch is powered up for takeoff. What could possibly go wrong?
If you specialize in learning the hard way as I do, you know the answer is…well, a lot more than you might think. Luckily, unless you’re on a 10-day Rocky Mountain hike through cougar territory, you can prevent most disasters by practicing basic safety precautions:
1. Do plan ahead. This means checking the weather forecast so you don’t get caught in a category 4 hurricane (yes, I’ve done that — hello, flying debris!). You needn’t shy away from walking in gentle rain or snow, but do dress appropriately to stay warm and dry (e.g., by wearing moisture-wicking attire).
Planning ahead also means plotting your general route before you head into an unfamiliar area, lest you become tragically lost (again, like me). If you know how to read a paper map, take one with you. If not, make sure your smartphone or GPS watch is sufficiently charged in case you need turn-by-turn directions.
2. Do tell someone where you’ll be. Make sure a person you trust knows your whereabouts and when to expect your return. If you’re not averse to tracker technology, enable Strava’s free Beacon tool to share your live location with emergency contacts. Many of the Garmin smartwatches now have safety and tracking features, too.
3. Do carry ID. Even better, download the free ROAD iD app, which lets you enter vital identification information for EMS workers in case of an accident. If you have an iPhone, consider setting up the Medical ID feature of the Health app, where you can enter your height, weight, blood type, medical conditions, medications, and organ donation status. (Let’s hope you don’t need to use that last one.)
4. Don’t walk after dark. If you can, stick to exercising in the daylight, especially in isolated areas. If you must walk after dark, wear reflective gear such as NoxGear so that you’re visible to oncoming traffic.
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5. Don’t blast your music. Especially in an unfamiliar area, you should always maintain awareness of your surroundings, and this means being all eyes and ears. If you have to blast that Pitbull mix to keep up your walking mojo, at least invest in a pair of bone-conduction headphones — they don’t cut you off from your environment like traditional sets.
6. Do take a self-defense class. Now that walking has transformed from a dreaded chore to a heavenly reward, you probably can’t get enough of the outdoors. If you plan to spend a lot more time walking than you expected, consider taking a self-defense class to improve your strength, confidence, and preparedness in the face of danger. Plus, the pandemic has made it easier than ever to enroll in a class online. Hi-Yah from your own home!
Go on a Hot Girl Walk.
You’ve been crushing your goals like a total boss bitch. You talk the talk and walk the walk. You eat hills for breakfast and trails for dinner. What’s next?
You celebrate your sassiness on a Hot Girl Walk, of course.
@exactlyliketheothergirls Reply to @666mjcksn666 follow to stay on non-toxic tik tok! There are a lot of new friends so this needed a redo #hotgirlwalk #fitness ♬ original sound – Mia
The Hot Girl Walk (hashtagged as #HotGirlWalk or #HGW on social media) is more than the latest wellness trend — it’s a positivity and mindfulness movement empowering women around the world to embrace their inner badass.
The daily, four-mile Hot Girl Walk has one major rule, and that’s that you can only think of three things for the entire walk:
1) Things that you’re grateful for,
2) How hot you are, and
3) Goals you want to achieve.
Oh, and you’re not allowed to think of any drama. Sounds more daunting than settling on the perfect pair of shoes, doesn’t it?
But mindfulness and gratitude don’t have to be intimidating. They’re just oddly unfamiliar for so many of us. They make us feel uneasy, troubled, because we’re terrible at practicing them in daily life. We’re too busy to slow down, we say.
Just like walking regularly, mastering self-love takes hard work, commitment, and maybe a few close girlfriends to build us up when we’re down. But all of that grit will prevail when, suddenly, it’s second nature to look in the mirror and say, “Girl, you’ve got this.”
So go for that Hot Girl Walk, tag your #HGW proudly, and know that — in the wise words of the movement’s 22-year-old founder — you can achieve anything you set your mind to.
Have you achieved greater self-confidence with a walking program? Share your experiences in the comments!
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