One of the first monuments in our lives are those first few steps we take.
As we age, our walks become more valuable; we spend them communing with nature, making business deals, and conversing with people we care about.
We take walks to escape stressful situations and cool our minds and brainstorm our next big idea. Walking is one of the most under-appreciated things we do in life, and this simple activity benefits our body, mind, and spirit.
How does walking work?
The cycle of walking requires two phases, which are referred to as the “gait.” The first phase of the gait is called the “stance,” whereupon the foot is on the ground. The second phase occurs when the foot swings from the ground.
This is called the “swing,” and it comprises 40% of the cycle. Walking requires a coordinated effort of the brain, the hips, the knees, and the feet. By stretching the hips, knees, and feet often, you can walk better and walk longer without placing too much pressure on any single area of your body.
Why is walking important?
Taking at least one walk a day can have a tremendous effect on overall health and well-being. Thirty minutes of walking each day can significantly improve cardiovascular fitness while strengthening bones, tightening muscles, and increasing energy.
Walking benefits mental health by:
- Increasing self-esteem
- Brightening mood
- Radically reducing stress and anxiety
- Decreasing fatigue
Walking benefits physical health by:
- Improving blood circulation and heart health
- Strengthening bones and joints
- Increasing life expectancy
- Furthering weight loss
- Improving quantity and quality of sleep
- Reducing the risk of Alzheimer’s and Dementia
How much should you walk to achieve these benefits?
Walking 10,000 steps a day is considered ideal by many experts, and while that seems like a lot, it certainly doesn’t have to happen all at once. To reach this goal, you might consider walking to nearby places more often rather than driving.
Another consideration is to walk to the grocery store once a week or walk to work more often. For those of you who aren’t counting steps with your watch or an app on your phone, 30 minutes of walking a day or at least 150 minutes of walking a week is considered enough to reap the benefits of walking without overdoing it.
How to make walking more interesting?
If you need a little more motivation for your walks, you’re not alone. In this busy society of ours, it’s become harder and harder to step away from our work and obligations to find time to walk in peace. For many, the joy of walking is hampered by the stresses of everyday life. To make walking a little more enjoyable, there are a few things you can try:
- Mixing up where you walk: If you’re a mall walker, maybe it’s time to try taking a hike through nature. And if you’re a nature junkie, you might find it interesting to take a trek through the city. Fortunately for us here in Williamson County, there are a plethora of sites to see, from the big city to the rivers and walking paths. More on those below!
- Walking with a dog: A dog’s got to walk, and their enthusiasm for walking is undoubtedly inspiring. Most dogs love to walk fast and walk as long as possible. You’ll be able to count on your dog to keep going as long as you do, and your dog might even get you running! Did you know there are dog parks in Williamson County? Now you do!
- Wear a pedometer and challenge yourself: By wearing a pedometer, you can easily track how many steps you are taking, then challenge yourself to increase that amount each day. Choose a healthy reward for yourself or plan a special night of pure relaxation for the end of the week after you have reached your goal.
- Join (or start) a walking club: Accountability partners can make all the difference in reaching your health and fitness goals and sticking with them for the long term. If you don’t have a friend to go on walks with, you might consider finding a walking group near you, or better yet, starting one with a few neighbors and friends.
Tips for Walking Safely
Three factors to consider to walk safely are: what shoes you wear, the safety precautions you take, and how you prepare for and cool down from a walk.
#1 – Walking Shoes
Walking shoes come in all different kinds of colors and styles, but there are a few primary components that go into making a shoe ideal for walking. First, pick a shoe that provides ample arch and heel support.
Next, choose a size that offers a little room in the toe area, so that your feet aren’t scrunched up against the shoe as you move. Be sure to pick a pair that offers cushioning in the midsoles, as this portion of our feet tends to strike the ground with the most force. And finally, look for shoes that provide good traction to avoid slipping no matter which surface you walk on.
#2 – Safety Precautions
Personal safety is extremely important while walking in public areas, especially when out in nature where you think nobody else is around. For starters, it’s crucial to stay alert and aware of your surroundings. If you absolutely must walk with headphones in, keep the volume low and only use one earbud.
The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office offers self-defense classes, and in addition to taking classes, it’s wise to carry at least one self-defense tool, such as mace. Be sure to keep your phone charged at all times, and let someone know where you’re going as an added precaution.
#3 – Warming Up and Cooling Down
Before heading out on your walk, it’s best to warm up with soft exercises such as lunges and squats, jumping jacks, or arm circles. This will help to get the blood flowing and prevent any injuries. While you might think that stretching beforehand is the way to go, research suggests that it’s best to save the stretches for after the walk is finished.
Stretching before a walk loosens up muscles and tendons, making them more prone to injury. Stretching after a walk, however, is known to improve flexibility and expedite post-workout recovery.
Where are some great places to walk in Williamson County?
Parks, rivers, and paths galore! Williamson County has no shortage of places to explore. If you’re looking for a walking path, check out one of Williamson County’s beautiful nature parks, such as the Lake Park Trails in Hutto or the Veteran Memorial Park in Cedar Park.
If you would prefer to venture off the beaten path, you can find a map of trails nearby on TrailLink. No matter where you go, no two walks are ever the same!