Looking after your active body

John Inverdale, walking sports ambassador at Just Get Active

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If you’ve been following our series of blogs about the joy and positivity of walking sports, you might be wanting to raise a hand and ask a very relevant, but perhaps awkward, question: “what about any damage that I might be doing to myself?”

The reality of life, especially if you’ve had a few years out from regular physical activity, is that you can’t suddenly immerse yourself in a weekly, or maybe even a daily, routine without bits of you crying out for help and a little compassion. First of all, don’t worry.

Walking sports push your body in a good way


Walking sports are gentler versions of your favourite sports like football and hockey. So, by nature, they’re lower impact than other forms of activity. By and large, physical contact is kept to a minimum. They offer a fantastic cardio work-out and, the good news is, you’re unlikely to be found crumpled in a heap in the corner at the end of a session, as though you’ve just run a marathon. However, it goes without saying that joints and muscles that have been on an extended holiday for the past few years will start to feel it when they return to active service. But in time, they’ll loosen up and let you move like you’re 17 again.

Set goals


Let’s start, as Julie Andrews might say, at the very beginning, because it’s a very good place to start.

When you embark on your walking sports journey, don’t expect yourself to suddenly be as flexible or as sharp as you were in your prime. The first session you attend is not the endgame, but just one step on the path towards it. So, set yourself goals, but be realistic.

Stretch


Start by stretching — a lot. Not violently, but sympathetically to the needs of various parts of your body. You can do this as often as you want. Why do you think dogs extend and straighten like they do first thing in the morning? We would all benefit from that. You’ll probably ache after your walking sports session, so stretching is just as important at the end before your muscles start seizing up. A lot of you may not know what ‘glutes’ and ‘pecs’ are — they’re part of the sport-speak of the modern generation — but they need looking after just like your calves and neck do. 

Keep moving - even on your days off


The temptation is to listen to your body only on ‘match days’ as it were… those occasions when you’re off to the leisure centre or the football pitch to meet up with friends, play for a couple of hours, and then head for a coffee or a beer. However, while walking sports are all about enjoying yourself, it’s markedly less fun to be aching and breaking after you’ve played football or netball. So, try to do something most days to keep the engine oiled and the body ticking over.

Listen to your body


Crucially, take it steady and listen to your body. If any aches still haven’t worn off days after a session, you might be overdoing it — so scale back. Preparation is key, too. In the old days, you probably didn’t do much warming up or cooling down, because that hadn’t been invented then — or at least, nobody realised how important it was. But by taking a little extra time to warm up and cool down, then let your body recuperate, you’ll be able to get back to exercising sooner.

Walk wherever you can


Walking is a simple, gentle and enjoyable way to keep moving — whether it’s alone, with friends or with a canine pal. Look for ‘opportunities to move’; for example, instead of driving to the shops, walk there. If you have stairs in your house, walk up and down them a few times, even when you don’t have to. You can do exercises against the wall or on the floor while watching television. It’s all about getting in the mentality of viewing your newly active body as a machine that needs regular attention.

Don’t feel disheartened if, when you get home from a walking sport session, your body feels achier than it did a few hours ago. That’s a good thing and the feeling will ease up. Crucially, having fun, meeting like-minded people and making life-long friends counteracts any pangs. Walking sports can reinvigorate your mind, body and social life — but it needs you to help engineer the revolution.