The health benefits of walking are well documented, and in my previous office-based career I used to look forward to a walk at lunchtime. It was a great opportunity to alleviate the stresses of the corporate world and develop great relationships with colleagues. Some of my most effective meetings were held on the move, outside of the formal office environment! Recently I considered walking in the context of horse riders who have sedentary jobs and how fantastic a daily walk can be, for not only our wellbeing, but also for our equestrian performance.
What’s the hype?
• Minimal hassle - Walking is a great way to pass your lunch hour, because (debilitating injury aside) it is accessible to everybody, you will not require any equipment and, unlike jogging in a lunchbreak, you will not get sweaty and need a shower before heading back to the office!
• Weight control – Gentle aerobic exercise such as walking is great for fat burning. A 30 minute walk will burn around 150 calories (approximate – actuals depend upon age, gender, weight etc), which over a month is equivalent to a pound of weight loss. Rider weight is a very contentious issue in terms of the maximum percentage of bodyweight a rider should be. More recent thinking suggests rider weight should be a maximum of 10% of our horse’s bodyweight, though some consider the closer to 5% the better, and others suggest up to 15% does not cause the horse any harm. Whatever your opinion on the exact percentage, anybody who has ever worn a heavy rucksack can appreciate that the lighter we are, the easier it is for our horses to carry us effectively and perform at their best.
• Reduction in stress – High pressure occupations cause stress, which is harmful to our health over the long term, if not managed correctly. Simply going for a stroll at lunchtime can help you appreciate the beauty of the great outdoors, get the world back into perspective and alleviate stress. If you are in a positive frame of mind at work, you are more likely to enjoy riding your horse in the evening, and reduce the risk of taking your frustrations out on your noble steed. From a personal perspective, in my past career, I did not realise how effective taking a lunchtime walk was for relaxation, until the day when I was too busy to get out the office, and I felt like a caged animal all afternoon. This inevitably impacted upon my riding performance in the evening. No horse wants a stressed and irate owner turning up to ride at 7pm!
• Postural Improvement – Occupations that involve spending prolonged periods at a desk can lead to poor posture from slouching over a screen, particularly if combined with stress-related hunched shoulders. Extended periods of sitting down, tightens the hip flexors which makes it very difficult to achieve a correct posture on a horse. Walking at lunchtime can help alleviate these problems by stretching and improving circulation, ensuring you return to your desk feeling tall and free in your movement, which your horse will definitely appreciate! Postural improvements will also alleviate aches and pains associated with sub-optimal movement because it will reduce the strain on your back.
• Vitamin D – Vitamin D is important for keeping bones and teeth healthy, and supports good mental health. The majority of people in the UK do not get enough Vitamin D during the winter months, as it is sourced from sunlight and many occupations involve leaving the house when it is dark to sit indoors all day, and returning when it is dark. No amount of mucking out or riding in the dark will be able to help you! A 30 minute walk during the day will expose your skin to the sunlight and help you to absorb as much Vitamin D as possible during the long winter months.
Maximise the benefit
There are two key ways to maximise the benefits of walking. Research has shown that people who wear a pedometer are more aware of their movement and walk more as a result, than if they are not wearing a pedometer. From a weight control perspective, this is fantastic news and something that is easy to achieve. In addition, wearing weights round your ankles will increase the work your body has to do, and therefore burn more calories and can help with toning.
Still reading? What are you waiting for? Grab your trainers – happy walking!
What form of non-riding exercise do you prefer? Post in the comments below!
Lucy Field-Richards : Lucy owns Ride Fit Equestrian, and is from Nottinghamshire.
Qualifications : First class BSc (Hons) Equine Sports Science (Equestrian Psychology), BHSAI, Diploma in Equine Sports Massage Therapy
Lucy is a lecturer in Equine Science at Nottingham Trent University.
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