It takes an inordinate amount of mindfulness to get movement back into our lives these days but walking is one of the easiest and best ways to do it. The benefits of walking are many and well documented. The notion of 10,000 steps a day has crept in as a daily movement prescription and I love the way that various devices like Fitbit can motivate someone to get up every hour to hit their number but we can do better than 10,000 steps!
10,000 sounds like a lot but we are only scratching the surface. Over the course of 24 hours, that is a tiny percentage of the movement time available to us. I walk every day and where possible walking is my mode of transportation but despite my best efforts, it often isn't enough. So I also go out for the purpose of just walking and use that time to catch up with friends, listen to podcasts and for the pure enjoyment of being outside. In the week, that’s usually about an hour, sometimes more and a longer walk at the weekends.
I’ve been wanting to up my walking mileage for a while but my feet don’t love walking on concrete and I live in an urban environment. I am fortunate that most places are walkable and living near a couple of the royal parks means I can get off concrete and walk along the river for miles or on grass and trails. Those walks are all on flat and level ground though and can be taxing on the same body parts without varied terrain. The stiffer your feet and ankles, the harder it is for you to recruit other body parts. This is true for most of us and the same body parts get used over and over again.
So recently, I have ramped up my walking significantly and have done several walks between 10 and 15 miles. The 10 ish milers have all been on flat and level ground. Walking 10 miles along the Thames Path is a very different experience for your body to walking 15 miles on the South Downs Way and over the Seven Sisters. The latter I did to celebrate my birthday recently. It feels amazing to walk the longer distances, just knowing that you can is very satisfying.
I have a history of foot problems and I wear very little structure in the way of shoes because I simply do not feel comfortable in a traditional shoe anymore. If the surface allows it, I will also go barefoot. I have worked on foot mobility and strength and my feet are fairly well adapted to little support. However, if I’m planning a long walk, I prepare for the inevitable foot niggle.
Here are some tips for going long:
- You need a walking buddy or two to walk longer, it’s more fun and the time passes quickly.
- The walk does not have to be done non-stop. I recommend taking frequent breaks to stretch and move your body in different ways.
- Bring a tennis ball or something smaller with you. You can roll your feet on the ball when they start to talk to you. Failing that find some small stones or textured surface to walk on barefoot!
- Get low to the ground on any break. Find a fence or something similar and squat down. Your knees and hips will love it.
- Mobilise your hips. Stand with your feet wider than hip width apart. Hinge forward at the hip and rock your pelvis from side to side. Try not to round your back but isolate the movement to your hips.
- If you are wearing a back pack. Take it off your back from time to time and carry your backpack in your hands, alternating hands frequently. Then try carrying it in each arm, again alternating arms.
Get hip strong
Every day practice the Pelvic List exercise in the video below. The basic version can be done anytime you are standing around, the more advanced version can be done on yoga block or book. If you are out and about, it can be done on a step or kerb or even a bench but preferably barefoot.
- Stand with both feet pointing forward and hip width apart.
- Your weight should be back in your heels and your legs vertical.
- Place your hand on a your right hip and try to bring the right side of the pelvis down towards the floor. This action will result in your left foot clearing the ground.
- Keep both legs straight, bending either knee will move the work load away from the hip.
- Try to balance for about 30 seconds to one minute and switch sides.
- The advanced version shown on a block increases the range of motion happening at the hip. The instructions are the same as in the basic exercise but you are changing the height of the floating leg.
This seemingly simple exercise challenges the muscles in the lateral hip and if you find it easy, back your hips up more so they are stacked over your knee and ankle bone.
*This is not a hip hike exercise which targets different muscles group. You want to challenge the muscle groups on the lateral hip of the standing leg not those in the back above the hip of the floating leg.