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Why Winter Is the Perfect Season to Get Walking

As the temperatures drop and the dust settles, it’s time to don those trainers and head for the great outdoors.

The Middle East is certainly blessed with a moderate climate during the winter months. Blue skies, sunshine and temperatures in the twenties are the region’s incredible natural assets and perfect for heading outdoors for a long energising walk. Walking is not only good for your physical state, it also gives you a mental boost. Even a brisk 10-minute walk stroll in fresh air can do wonders for your body and your soul.

Educator Frédérique Ohnmacht-Lenormand has been residing in Riyadh since August 2013. She takes a walk almost every day. “It just allows me to relax and de-stress after a day of work, having nothing in mind and just enjoying the scenery.” She recommends the Diplomatic Quarter, a green area landscaped with plants and ponds with paths perfect for walking. Wadi Hanifah, a beautiful valley with small lakes, palm trees and picnic areas, is another great location.

To reap the full physical benefits of walking, it’s best to keep looking forward with your head up. Try to roll your foot from heel to toe and swing your arms back and forth. And keep your back straight and those stomach muscles nice and tight.

To stay motivated keep a record of how many steps you take and the distance you walk. You can record these numbers on a physical activity app or an electronic device to calculate steps and distance, such as the Jawbone UP founded by Lebanese-British entrepreneur Alexander Asseily and Hosain Rahman. This flexible, rubber-coated wristband allows you to track daily activity, including steps taken, as well as calories burnt while sleeping and eating habits. The water-resistant wristband also features a vibration motor that can act as a reminder that you have been sedentary for too long and that it’s time to start walking again.

Starting a walking programme does take some initiative and sticking to it long term takes commitment. So to stay motivated, ask a friend and plan several different routes for variety. And when it’s time for the holidays plan a walking tour. If you have no one to go with join a group walk such as the ones organised by the Lebanon Mountain Trail Association. Once you are walking there is no looking back and you’re hooked for life.

The Benefits of Regular Walking:

Helps maintain a healthy weight: We all know exercise burns calories, but what's surprising is how many calories we burn just by walking briskly for 10 minutes. Taking weight into consideration, we burn about 50 calories for every 10 minutes of brisk walking.

Prevents medical conditions, including heart disease and high blood pressure:  Walking benefits the heart enormously as it drops blood pressure, regulates blood sugar and lowers cholesterol, which are all risk factors of heart disease.

Strengthens bones: One of the best ways to improve bone health is to do weight-bearing exercises, which require the body to work against gravity.

Boosts good mood: The best way to turn a frown upside down is to hit the streets, park or wherever makes you feel better. Exercise in general, and walking in particular, releases endorphins, those fantastic feel-good chemicals in the brain.

Improves brain function: While it doesn’t raise your IQ, walking does help to improve concentration, focus, and attention span. Exercise increases the level of BDNF, the brain-derived neurotrophic factor that has been shown to preserve the health of existing neurons and create new ones.

Helps you breath easier: When we walk or exercise, our lungs have to work harder to get the extra oxygen we need. This makes our lungs stronger and increases our lung capacity, making for easier breathing.

Reduces stress: We have already mentioned walking increases endorphin levels in the brain and gives us the ability to take fuller breaths, and both of these help rid the mind and body of stress. In fact, exercise of any kind drops our level of cortisol, also known as the stress hormone.

Improves posture and balance: The strong legs and feet we hone from walking are the perfect foundation for improved gait and poise, which lessen the likelihood of falling and encourage us to keep moving. Walking basically makes winning the use-it or-lose-it game a whole lot easier.

Increases mindfulness: Being outdoors activates all of our senses. We feel the sun on our faces, notice different scents and track the changing scenery. By being present during a walk and noticing our environment, we can enrich all of our moments, even after the walk is over.

Reduces pain: A lot of our physical aches and pains come from underuse rather than overuse. The less muscles, ligaments, tendons, and fascia are used, the tighter they become. And tightness causes a lot of pain, particularly in the lower back and joints. Walking helps us stay limber, flexible and pain free.

Remember: The faster and further you walk, the better the results.

Tips: Getting started
-Wear shoes with flexible soles to protect your feet.
-Begin with a warm up by walking slowly for a few minutes to prepare your muscles for exercise.
-End with a cool down by walking slowly for a few minutes then stretch your muscles.

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