Walking, the best exercise

Walking is one of the simplest physical exercises we can perform in our daily life. Often underrated, perhaps because it doesn’t require gyms, special equipment nor personal trainers, it’s nevertheless one of the healthiest and easiest activities within our reach, even more so in our current situation, after a year of a pandemic that has involved several months of lockdowns and closed gyms.

The positive effects of walking in the body are well known: weight loss, less blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduced risk of heart disease… But more and more studies have appeared in the last few years proving the effects of walking in mental health as well. According to many scientists, walking (specially outdoors) has the following effects:

  • Improving our brain’s attention and memory capabilities.
  • Decreasing the risk of depression and anxiety.
  • Preventing age-related cognitive decline.

Besides, in the case of outdoors exercise, exposure to sunlight improves our vitamin D and serotonin levels. The latter is a neurotransmitter crucial in managing mood and sleep quality.

Walking as Camino training

Sometime later this year, perhaps as soon as in a matter of months, pilgrims will be able to come back to the Camino at last. Aside from its purely spiritual aspects, the Camino is obviously the ultimate “outdoor exercise”: walking several kilometers every day during a week (at least) will provide us with all the physical activity and natural environment we could possibly need. Risk of contagion outdoors is vanishingly low, and if we don’t wish to share and albergue, we can always book a room in the many hotels and hostels along the Camino.

The only problem we can find is that, after an entire year of an enforced sedentary lifestyle, many of us won’t be in physical shape for the Camino. That’s why it’s convenient to start training now; even if we don’t make the pilgrimage in the end, it will be useful anyway as phyiscal exercise.

Training for the Camino is actually quite easy, and it’s not even necessary to follow a rigurous set of instructions. It’s basically about getting used to walk every day. Veteran pilgrims advise the following:

  1. Start walking around 5 to 8 kilometers every day at least.
  2. As weeks pass, increase distances to 10 or 15 kilometers every day.
  3. It’s also convenient to get used to the weight of your rucksack. As usual, we’ll start little by little, carrying only the rucksack with our water bottle, and we’ll continue to the point of walking with the full weight of our luggage. It should be mentioned that not every pilgrim find this phase necessary: many advise walking with your rucksack just a couple of days, in order to find out if there’s anything in our equipment bothering us.
  4. Once we are on the Camino, the most important piece of advice is to take it easy the first few days. Enthusiasm at starting our pilgrimage at last can make us rush beyond our ability, and we’ll definitely notice it later. The Camino is not a competition, and it’s never been about who arrives first.

Of course, if we already have an active lifestyle in our daily life, the above “program” isn’t so necessary: we’ll just have to make sure to keep up with our usual physical activity, perhaps increasing the pace in the weeks previous to the Camino. In any case, the important thing is to persevere: go out and walk every day.

Finally, it should also be noted that footwear is a crucial factor in all of the above. Inadequate shoes might cause blisters and prevent us from walking comfortably. Which shoes are the most adequate and comfortable is a highly personal choice and a subject that could take an entire book; we have touched on it in the past in this blog: