Adding a daily walk to your fitness program at home will improve your overall well being. Also, it will set you up to begin preparing physically for a walk on the Camino. Here are some of the benefits, and why you might want to start walking now.
"Should I do anything to train for the Camino?" Yes! If you aren't already walking every day for your general health and fitness, start walking now. Whether or not you are preparing to go to the Camino, walking will add to your daily well being. Walking is one of the most accessible and simplest ways to stay fit at home.
Prepare to Go, Start Walking Now
People often ask us to recommend a training regimen to get ready for the Camino. We can't describe anything in detail without knowing an individual's Camino goals, fitness level, etc. But in general, we advise walking every day you can back home to prepare. This is especially wise as you collect your gear. Testing gear before you get to the Camino is important. There is no reason to take it with you if you won't use it or it won't perform as it should. If nothing else we suggest breaking in your shoes.
Do What You Can to Prepare
Having walked many Caminos since 2007, we can tell you that no matter how hard you try, you just can't duplicate the experience of being on the Camino walking four to five hours each day. Few of us can devote that kind of time to preparing when we are back home. We might be able to go for a longer walk on the weekend, but the Camino is a day-after-day long walk. You will learn what it's like to be very tired, but know you need to rest, recover, and walk again come morning.
Benefits of Walking
Get Fit, Stay Fit
Sources like the Mayo Clinic report, "The faster, farther and more frequently you walk, the greater the benefits." Physical benefits include improving your overall health, maintaining a healthy weight, and preventing and managing high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Walking strengthens your bones and muscles, and improves your balance. In addition, giving your eyes a break from looking a screens is beneficial. The more often you observe what’s going on in your broader environment, the better your brain and eyes work together to process it.
Improve Your Mental Well Being
Walking de-stresses, and lessens depression and anxiety. TrackingHappingness.com writes that throughout the ages "Walking used to be THE athletic activity" It was the leading sport in more recent centuries , but now exercise programs of all sorts have taken the place of walking in many cultures.
Increase Mental Vitality
Raymond De Young of the University of Michigan studies the effect of walking on mental vitality. Mental vitality includes creative problem-solving, planning, and emotion management. Moreover, it is key to flourishing in our environment. The simple activity of walking might be all that is needed to restore mental vitality in an environment of data overload and stress.
According to a 2010 study, both urban and rural walks benefited people with poor mental health more, improving their mood and reflection on personal project planning.
When You Run into a Creative Dead End
I have always known from my personal experience that when I am stuck trying to figure something out, it helps me to go for a walk. Sometimes ideas begin flowing faster than I can keep up. Barbara Oakley, author of A Mind for Numbers explains the mental process. When we are struggling mentally to solve a problem, we are in "focused mode." This mode serves us well when we need to concentrate to solve a problem we know how to solve. For example, if you are adding up some numbers, which is something you know how to do, you can do it quickly and efficiently.
The other mode is called "diffuse mode." It comes into play when creative problem solving is needed. In diffuse mode our attention is relaxed and our mind is wandering. This allows us to gain new insight and ideas, which gives us new solutions to old problems.
Walking Activates "Diffuse Mode"
Physically walking, wandering, encourages our mind to wander. This is why walking is not only relaxing, but also helps us find solutions to our problems. Many of us who have walked the Camino get to Santiago and don't want to stop walking. I think this sense of well-being and relaxed mind is what we don't want to give up. I know personally I have been able to process old trauma as I walked, coming into a new place of mental refreshment and understanding.
How to Begin
Make Your Plan to Walk at Home
Because walking is a low impact activity, it might be possible for you to walk during a break at work without having to clean up afterwards. No matter how long you walk, include a slower paced warm up phase, a faster interval, and then a slower cool down. And ALWAYS stretch once you are warm to keep those muscles lean and long to prevent cramping and tightness.
Make a note on your calendar on the days you walked, and how far. If you miss a planned day, forgive yourself and keep walking. Over time, you will be encouraged by how many days you have walked, and how many miles/kilometers you have walked in a week, month, year. The goal is to keep moving.
Walking Alone or with a Friend
If you need the mental break a solo walk will give you, by all means walk by yourself. Be sure to walk in a safe place, and at a time of day that is safe for the environment. If you need the accountability of a walking partner to get it done, then by all means find a walking buddy and enjoy the company.
Start Walking Now with a Modest Goal
If you are not currently walking at all, start with a goal of 5-10 minutes per day, for 5 days a week. Increase in small increments, always stretching once you are warmed up to keep your muscles long and flexible. This will help prevent some common injuries. The American Institute for Cancer Research advises a 30 minute brisk walk 5 times a week to reduce your risk of cancer. So even if you start at 5 minutes, you will probably be walking 30 minutes before you know it.
Hard Core Workouts Can Cause Damage
Self magazine reports that hard core workouts are not necessary to get results. Walking is one of the simplest, most attainable exercises people can do to get that will yield big benefits. I'm sure you know people like I do who have dedicated themselves to hard core fitness workouts at a gym. They might get results, but ultimately everyone I know like this has ended up with overuse injuries requiring surgery on knees, shoulders, or back.
Make the Most of Walking
- Be consistent. If you want results you have to actually walk. Long walks now and then to clear your mind are good, but the shorter consistent walks tally big results over time. Especially if you are preparing to walk the Camino.
- Walk with a friend, or not. Decide if you need the solace, or need the accountability more. If you have a dog to walk, you can have both: a walking companion who doesn't interrupt your thoughts with conversation.
- Unplug from media. If you are going to reap the benefits of relaxing your mind and de-stressing, take out the ear buds, and turn off your ringer. Curb your thoughts to stay in the present.
- Take deep, cleansing breaths. Enjoy the rhythm of regular cleansing breaths as you walk to help relax.
- Be in the present. As you walk, listen to hear what sounds are in your environment. Listen for God in prayer. Intentionally look around to see your environment.
- Vary your route or time of day to keep your walk interesting.
- We use our Camino walking poles on every walk to add more physical benefits. They distribute the workload from lower body only to upper body, taking some of the impact off of knees and hips. They also add a measure of safety because they provide stability on uneven terrain or wet surfaces.