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How to Maximise the Benefits of Your Walks

It's such a great and easy way to take exercise, so here are some suggestions to further boost your health and improve your fitness.

In many ways walking is the perfect exercise. It's free, requires no equipment and has an almost zero injury rate, plus it has a multitude of benefits for physical and mental health.

The Telegraph asked a number of experts for their recommendations to help us truly make the most of our walks.

Choose mixed terrain: A route that includes different terrains can have impressive benefits for your brain and body. Walking on bumpy footpaths engages more muscles, and so increases your calorie burn by 28 per cent, according to one study. If you take a route on uneven ground it will also improve your balance, and even give your brain a workout – as it is challenged to make thousands of subconscious microdecisions that make sure you stay balanced at all times. This extra stimulation can also slow down your brain's ageing process, says neuroscientist Dr Daniel Levitin.

Correct posture: Plenty of people lean their heads forward as they walk, which reduces mobility in your spine and shoulders, says Joanna Hall. Instead, think about keeping your torso lifted up and your head directly above your spine.

Correct gait: People are often over-reliant on the power of their front foot to propel them forward, neglecting their back one while walking, says Joanna Hall. This means that our hamstrings and glutes are not used as much as they could and should be. This slows us down and can lead to discomfort in the lower back. Instead, she recommends focusing on pushing off your back foot.

Extra weight: If you feel up to it, carry extra weight to work up more of a sweat, says Tom Cowan, exercise physiologist. If you do want to carry something more, a vest may be best as it distributes weight evenly – steer clear if you have any injury or joint issues. And avoid using a rucksack for the extra weight as it tends to pull you backwards if you don’t have perfect technique.

Better sleep: Many experts agree that the best time to get outside for a walk is first thing in the morning, as this helps to calibrate the body’s internal clock, and keep it working to a circadian rhythm, making it easier to fall asleep and stay asleep at night. In fact, getting outside in natural light in the morning is thought to be the best thing you can do for good sleep – and more important than anything you do in the evening.

For more good sleep advice, see 5 Sleep Tips from Olympians.

Use your arms: Engaging your upper body will help you go faster and burn more calories, says Gill Stewart, director of Nordic Walking UK. In Nordic walking, poles are used to mimic the movements of cross-country skiing and, if you don't own a pair, they start at around £25 ($34), you may wish to invest in some. If you don't want to use poles, be sure not to swing your arms back and forward like a robot. “The movement in your arm should come from the shoulder girdle at the back of your body,” she says. “Good technique should look smooth and flowing.”

Mood booster: A walk can also be a good opportunity to calm the mind. Why not leave the phone at home and observe the world around you? Studies have shown that “awe walks” – where you set out to look at something that triggers a feeling of wonder and perspective – have a particularly powerful effect on mood.


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