Are You Making These 3 Common Walking Mistakes? An Expert Explains
Quick question: Are you walking correctly? If your immediate response was something along the lines of, Uh, I think so? it's probably time to reflect on your strolling habits. According to award-winning writer Annabel Streets, author of 52 Ways To Walk, regular walks come with a fair share of physical and mental health benefits—but to get the most bang for your buck, you have to take the proper steps (pun intended).
On this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, Streets identifies the three most common walking mistakes she learned from her research. Below, find out what you may be doing all wrong:
Mistake 1: Improper posture.
"The first thing I had to do was unpack my posture and my alignment," says Streets. Especially if you sit hunched over all day (perhaps over a laptop) with your head thrust forward, it's important to take the time to straighten out your spine before you head out the door. When Streets gets up from her desk, she spends a few seconds (no more than 10) on her doorstep to consciously bring her head back over her shoulders, lift up from her ribs, and elongate her spine.
"A lot of us don't even realize, but if you spend eight hours a day on a laptop, when you get up, you're still in that position," she explains. Those extra few seconds to stretch can really make a difference.
Foot posture is also important, says Streets: Rather than trudging along, make sure you roll down through the ball of your foot with each step, landing softly on your heel first. Also make sure you're using all five of your toes: "We have five toes for a reason," Streets says. "They are there not only for our balance but also to help us push off more efficiently. A lot of us tend to just walk with one side of the foot, like slightly on the inside, when we should be using the whole foot." By focusing on how each toe makes contact with the ground, you'll use your whole foot and promote balance.
Mistake 2: Ignoring your breath.
Like other experts, Streets is a fan of nasal breathing, especially while you walk. "Your nose has the most extraordinary filtration system1," she says. "It manages to filter out the pollution and pathogens," which is especially helpful if you're walking in a big, bustling city. Our mouths, on the other hand, don't have this same knack for filtering out particles. "It just goes straight into your lungs," says Streets.
Breathing through your nose also releases nitric oxide, a wonderful molecule that plays an essential role in increasing circulation and delivering oxygen into cells. "It's been linked to good lung health and immunity, and it helps just push blood and oxygen all the way around your body and up to your brain," Streets adds. All that to say: The way you breathe matters, so pay attention to those inhales and exhales on your stroll.
Mistake 3: Wearing headphones—sometimes.
On solo walks, it's pretty common to wear headphones and listen to music, a podcast, or any other form of entertainment, separating yourself from the world around you. Don't worry, Streets is pro-headphones: "I would absolutely listen to a podcast—not all the time but quite often," she says. However, if you do have the opportunity to walk in an area filled with nature sounds (like a park, if you can escape the city sounds), she recommends lending an ear.
Why? Well, research has found that those who listened to woodland sounds—like a trickling stream, birdsong, or crunching leaves—reported a 30% increase in relaxation. And of those sounds, birdsong was the runaway winner, with 40% of participants saying the sound made them feel happier. So if you can head to an area with lots of natural birdsong, Streets says it can supercharge the mental health benefits of your walk—but if you're walking, say, to the supermarket in a busy city, headphones are great for blocking out any aggravating noise.
Unfortunately, Streets notes, you can't listen to a playlist of natural sounds and expect those same relaxation effects. "Perhaps we know it's not the same. It doesn't feel right listening to fake birdsong," she poses.
To go on the healthiest walk, make sure you keep your breath, posture, and natural surroundings top of mind. Each can boost your mental and physical well-being and supercharge the benefits of your stroll. And if you're wondering the best time of day to take your walk? Streets has an answer for that, too.