If the shoe fits, then put it on and go for a walk. At least we think that’s how that saying should go! Walking is one of the best things we can do for our overall physical and mental health. Coincidentally, it’s also the most accessible form of exercise available. No fancy equipment or gym membership needed. Just throw on some shoes (or not!) and go.
Interestingly, walking is also one of the most overlooked and underrated ways to move our bodies because it’s such a constant in our lives. We do it in some form or another every day and because of that we sometimes fail to see it as the exercise powerhouse that it is.
Walking is rich in health benefits and positively impacts:
- Circulation and immune function
- Bone health, including combating osteoporosis
- Cardiovascular health
- Stress and weight management
- Mood, focus and creativity
Walking as mindfulness practice
“Connection between breath and awareness of the body is what we practice in any kind of movement session,” says MOVE CEO Elaine Economou. “And that’s exactly what we’re doing when we walk too. Really sensing your body–muscles, bones, tissue, organs–as you move your feet, legs, pelvis, ribs and up. It’s what our bodies were designed to do.”
When you walk, focus on making a connection between your breath and your body. Let your body move, glide, stretch, and articulate rather than tense or tighten. Feel your feet more rooted to the earth with each step. Notice each sensation for what it is, without passing judgment or looking for faults.
Relish the fresh air on your skin, indulge in the smell of trees, grass, water or whatever is around, and bask in the warmth of the sun or the crispness of the cold. Walking is the quintessential mind-body experience through which we can connect to our environment.
Walking for cardiovascular health and strength
Even today, with everything we know about wellness and movement, many people still believe that you need to go out and run five miles to get a good workout. And that’s just not the case.
“I encourage people to be intentional about their walks in order to achieve a desired goal,” says Elaine. “If you’re walking to receive the cardiovascular benefit or to increase strength and stamina, decide on a set distance or duration for the walk. Then from there, find a pace that allows you to feel slightly winded but still able to talk.” Once you’ve established a starting pace, you can work to increase your pace and distance over time.
You can add intervals of brisk walking to your walk to maximize the cardiovascular benefits and reproduce the same positive metabolic effect you’d get from a classic HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout. Intervals can be as short as 20-30 seconds or as long as a few minutes depending on your comfort level. Brisk walking also puts a consistent, managed amount of force on your bones that can help combat osteoporosis.
As your walking effort and frequency increase, you can work with your movement instructor to make sure you’re incorporating effective stretches into your routine to maintain alignment. Stretches for the hips, legs and feet are essential. But remember, walking is a whole-body activity. Paying attention to our upper bodies is critical even when it feels like the work is happening in our lower halves.
Creative ways to get more steps into your day
- Start a morning ritual by walking a favorite route before breakfast.
- Institute “walking meetings” with colleagues at work.
- Park farther away when you’re out running errands.
- Do laps around the mall in winter when it’s too cold or icy outside.
- Take the stairs or find some stairs!
- Adopt a dog and let her nose lead the way.
- Go find or leave a book at a little free library in your neighborhood.
Our favorite places to walk around Ann Arbor
Walking and running in and around the Ann Arbor area is hard to beat. From meditative walks in the woods to invigorating river runs, the beautiful options we have available to us for moving our bodies in the world and exploiting the many health benefits of walking are endless.
Here are a few favorite places to walk and run for MOVE staff members:
Walking along the Huron River with Lauren Miller
“One of my favorite places is next to the Huron River. There are paths that run along the river starting from Argo Livery. You can do a nice loop of you head north through the woods next to the river, cross the bridge on the north side of Bandemeer Park and then eventually cross back over at Argo Dam. The path takes you through the woods and hugs the river the whole time. And it’s all within walking distance of downtown Ann Arbor.”
Trail-walking at Dexter Mills with Laura Tyson
“I love the Dexter Mills trail in Dexter. Walking next to the river is so relaxing. And it’s an easy, paved path to Hudson Mills Metropark, which is also lovely. I also love the Pinckney Recreation area for trail walking.”
Quiet time at Bird Hills Nature Area with Sammy Hart
“Bird Hills is really quiet in the middle of the day, which is when I like to go. I love the view of the river and the workout I get from the occasional climb. Typically, I leave my phone in the car as a way of reconnecting by disconnecting.”
A quick break at Saginaw Forest with Rachel Cook
“My favorite place to run and walk right now is Saginaw Forest. I love it because I can sneak over there on my lunch break and get in a quick nature fix. It’s nice and quiet and has two areas that overlook a spring-fed lake. It’s moderately hilly and also has a nice amount of shade from all the large trees. There’s a pavilion by the 242 Church trailhead if you want to sit and eat your lunch before you hike in. It’s dog-friendly too. You can do two loops and get in a good three to four miles.”
Fun and variety at Gallup Park with Tony Brutz
“My favorite place to walk and run around Ann Arbor is Gallup Park. The trail’s well-kept and it’s long enough to get in a different walk or run each time you go. It’s also a special place for me because it was the trail where I did my first official 5k for the Nerds vs. Zombies run back in 2014.”
Focus at Patowatomi Trail with Robin Kreinke
“Patowatomi Trail in the Pinckney Recreation area is a favorite. I love the focus that trail walking and running requires. On roads and sidewalks in town, I find myself using my body in repetitive ways. But trails add obstacles and distractions that force me to focus on the path and use different muscles. I feel like it takes my physical activity to a higher level.”
What are your favorite places to indulge in the many health benefits of walking? Send us an email so we can add them to our movement-loving list!
Looking for some simple ways to support your walking and running routine? Check out these easy Pilates mat moves for maintaining balance and avoiding injury.