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Enhance Your Walking Practise

Personal Trainers often feel like it’s their job to smash their clients and provide workouts that the client otherwise wouldn’t do themselves. However, what we don’t always realise is that for women, in particular, this can be extremely un-motivating; being sore and exhausted on top of being stressed and exhausted is counter-productive! It’s also not great on a hormonal level.

The minimum anyone should be doing is walking, however simply taking a client for a walk in their session may make you feel like you’re not delivering on what a personal trainer is supposed to do. I beg to differ! For one, you’re providing accountability – they have to show up at a certain time. For two, just because all you’re doing now is walking, doesn’t mean that’s what you’ll be doing forever – you’re able to progress their program as their fitness increases.

On the flip side, your client’s perceptions of value are also important. Whilst walking alone has numerous benefits, including:

  • maintaining bone density
  • boosting mood and healthy hormone balance
  • reducing risk of chronic disease (including diabetes and heart disease)
  • improving sleep
  • boosting lymphatic movement – flushing waste
  • and plenty more….

If your client thinks they can walk on their own or with a friend, you might lose them because they perceive their not getting value. So what’s the middle ground between walking and flogging?

I am so glad you asked!

Work on Balance

Balance training is particularly important for women, and not just because they’re twice as likely to develop Osteoporosis after menopause. Pregnancy changes a woman’s centre of gravity, her mobility, her ability to balance, her foot structure (and more!12).

Post birth, she often inhabits a different body to the one she lived in before. Post Natal women (and beyond) experience back pain, plantar fasciitis, and shoulder problems that didn’t bother her before. Balance training can help engage her core in a functional way, as well as improve symptoms caused or exacerbated by an unstable pelvis.

Women are also 1.5 to 2x more likely to experience a ligament injury than men, simply because Oestrogen keeps their ligaments long and supple3. This also means women are generally more mobile, and less stable – they have to work harder at controlling their joints to prevent injury. This will also fluctuate during the month if she’s menstruating, with high Oestroegen peaking in the mid-follicular phase, then rising again in the mid-luteal phase. An awareness of her less-stable/more-mobile times of the month is helpful, as well as training balance routinely to counteract these fluctuations.

Balance deteriorates with age and is the leading cause of falls in the elderly. Every year more than one in three people aged 65 years or older fall, and this will only increase as the aged population grows4. This is of concern particularly for women, because the Oestrogen withdrawal during menopause means her ligaments and tendons will stiffen, once again changing her body, and forcing her to adapt56.

So, what does incorporating balance in to a walking session look like?

  • REACTIVE balance – catching a ball, walking on a rope or log, etc

  • DIVERSE balance – stepping over obstacles, walking in different directions on her toes, etc

  • CONTROLLED balance – standing on one leg, bird/dogs, etc

FREE course on training balance:

Restore Your Balance Course Series:

Walk Outside Rather Than Inside

This week we’ll enhance the health benefits of our walk by using our eyes. Now, just being in sunlight, even if you’ve slip, slip, slapped, is enough to get your Vitamin D and boost your mood7, but getting sunlight in to your eyes specifically, has a bunch of other benefits.

The main benefit of seeing in the sunlight, without sunglasses on is how it affects your hormones. In the winter months, where there’s less daylight, our bodies produce less serotonin – one of the hormones that stabilise our mood, help us feel happy, and also help us feel well. Serotonin also has a role in the digestive system and in our sleep cycle8. Performing your walks outside mean a boost in your serotonin, and all the happy benefits of this, including improved mood and improved sleep9.

Optic flow is the motion pattern generated at an eye that is moving relative to the environment. This happens when you’re walking along, taking in the things and events around you, and is enough to quiet some of the neural noise inside your head, especially related to stress10. “Watching where you’re going” is a form of mindfulness.

Finally, being in nature has a plethora of benefits that work on a positive level using all senses:

  • Immersion in forest or bush means you’ll be inhaling air ions and microbes, kind of like a probiotic for your nose and lungs11.
  • Nature sounds, and touching the earth or plants with your body are part of a multi-sensory experience which as been shown to drive a tranquil mental state12 – the opposite is also true, where monotony of stimulation is a source of stress13.
  • Exposure to natural environments, whether it be a park, a beach, in the bush or even in an image, is associated with lower levels of stress, reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, improves cognition14.
  • Being in a natural environment can lower your blood pressure and reduce your stress hormone concentrations in your blood15.
  • Seeing nature alone can reduce stress and anxiety, shorten hospital stays16, and lower heart rate, with blues and greens seemingly the most effective.
  • Bird sounds alone will reduce stress, decrease sympathetic nervous system activity, and increase perceived sense of restoration within a person17.
  • Odours such as leaf alcohol and beeswax are associated with happiness18, while blooming plants can increase calmness, alertness, and mood19.

So without putting too fine a point on it, if we compare this to the experiences one has walking on a treadmill in the gym (think sight, touch, taste, odours, and sounds) as well as the fact that the client will miss out on sunshine and optic flow, you can see how being outside can boost the health benefits of your walk!

Incorporate Breathwork and Mindfulness

When women are go-go-go, on call 24/7, and the sole repository for the entire household’s schedule, idiosyncrasies, and health, then their hormonal balance reflects this. The consequence of being in this state 24/7 is hormonal imbalance – as the body is not going to support a pregnancy when it’s under chronic stress20. Whether or not your female clients are trying to get pregnant is beside the point; being able to is a vital sign of internal hormonal balance and health21.

Hormone dysfunctions as a result of chronic, low level stress, looks like22 23:

  • Painful, excessively heavy, or ridiculously light periods
  • Irregular or missing periods
  • Thyroid problems
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances
  • Autoimmune flare ups (or development)
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Fertility and arousal problems

When you’re “just walking” with your female clients, you have an opportunity to re balance her hormones. It’s not the rise of stress hormones that’s the problem, it’s the lack of them dropping down again.

You can actually incorporate breathwork and mindfulness in to any workout routine, and I would particularly recommend it for your mums and peri menopausal women. Pregnancy, post partum, and the years leading up to menopause are major hormone disruptions for women, natural or not, and making an effort to re-centre her is powerful for her quality of life.

Mindfulness and breathwork can24 25 26 27:

  • Reduce the symptoms of pre-menstrual disorders, autoimmune disease, and mental health problems.
  • Significantly lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels.
  • Improve sleep and reduce insomnia.
  • Lower the need for medication.
  • Offset chronic conditions such as hypertension, depression, and dementia.
  • Reduce the frequency and severity of acute stress episodes (such as panic attacks, haemorrhage, heart attack)

and more, but that will do for now!

The breath work or mindfulness exercise only has to be performed for 5min to get a significant effect. If you have to choose one, breath work trumps mindfulness, however both can be done at the same time if you are mindful of the breath. The best breathwork is a cyclic pattern with a long, sighing exhale (eg. In for 4 and out for 6 – repeat for 5min)28. You also want to coach diaphragmatic breathing, or an intercostal breath, for maximum benefit29 30.

Play, be silly, avoid the gates, and change up the terrain…. in other words VARIETY
Variety is sorely missed in 99% of mainstream exercise programs31, but it’s a game changer for balance, longevity, brain health, physiological function, and pain reduction. Yes, you may be “just walking” with this client at this phase of her program, but there’s nothing stopping you from hopping on the swing set and having a play32 33!

Play, whether it’s like a child in a playground, or a game of netball, or just tossing a Frisbee back and forth, is also a form of mindfulness. When you’re engaged in play, you’re engaged, which is a blessed relief for a busy brain.

More sensible ways to add variety include changing up the terrain – don’t just walk the beach path, walk the soft sand, the hard sand, and the nature strip too! Step OVER gates and fences where you have the opportunity. Negotiate tree roots, cobble stones, and kids nature playgrounds as well.

The more complex your walk is, the greater the positive impact on your health as a whole – from balance and mobility to mood and dementia prevention.

In summary, yes, women should be lifting weights… eventually, if they can’t today. However anything is better than nothing, and if “just walking” is all they can tolerate for now, that is enough! This month we have discussed ways to enhance the walk, and get more “bang for buck” . Walking is one of the most under-rated, and healthiest things you can do. Even if you eventually introduce weights to your client, the walks should continue forever!



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30This is part of the assessment module of our Modern Post Natal Exercise and Wellness courses, which you can enrol in here:
31Not an actual statistic!
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