Walking – forming a habit for life

For many people, walking is something to do on a daily basis – going to the shop, bringing the kids to school, taking the dog for a walk. But for many others, it’s the opposite, the idea of regular exercise is something we can all struggle with. But as we all know, regular exercise is vital, not just as a way to get physically fit, but also to improve our mental wellbeing. In today’s article, we speak with Shane Hayes of Sligo Sport & Recreation Partnership about tips for becoming more active, and how walking is the ideal activity to get us moving.

Walking for physical and mental wellbeing in Sligo – photo Sligo Sport & Recreation Partnership

“Walking is probably the best exercise to start, particularly if you’re currently inactive. You can do it on your own or in a group, so it really is probably the best activity to start,” he says. 

Now with St. Patrick’s Day upon us and a stretch in the evenings, many more of us will be able to head out for a stroll to our nearest park or beach. And while Shane is all for people getting out as often as possible – 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week is the recommended amount, people should start slowly and build up from there.

“I think that one of the biggest reasons that people don’t persist with something like walking or even jogging is that they try to do too much, too fast, too soon. You could do 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes in the afternoon and 10 minutes in the evening to get to your 30 minutes. You’re getting massive benefits from that.”

He adds that for someone who is coming from an inactive background, it is also important to allow the body time to recover, so you may not want to walk every day at the start, maybe a day on, day off approach is better, and things will improve within a short period of time to the point where you can go for longer walks and increase your pace before too long.

Once you make the decision mentally that you will go out for a walk, and set aside time every day – or as often as you decide – for your walk, you now need to have the resolve that no matter what happens, you’ll try to stay on track. So even if the weather is bad, or a work or family issue arises, you should try to work around these and ensure that even if you have to amend the time of your walk, you’ll still complete it on that day. As Shane says, many people start strong, but the key is to keep things up. So what tips does he have for the walker who has begun to lose interest?

“Motivation is huge, particularly if you’re inactive. There are definitely advantages in going with a partner, or a friend or in a group. If you’ve arranged to meet somebody or somebody calls, you’re going to be much more likely to go. It’s a lot safer to be with someone, and even from a health point of view, if you had an injury or suddenly you don’t feel well, it’s always better to have someone with you,”, he says, adding that for people who have been very inactive for a long period, a visit to the GP might also be a good idea for a health check before doing anything energetic. “The other big benefit of the group is the social aspect, having someone to chat to, having a bit of craic, maybe having a cup of coffee afterwards.”

Walking as a group or solo – photo Sligo Sport & Recreation Partnership

You don’t need expensive gear to walk, but we should have a good pair of walking shoes, and a number of layers rather than a heavy coat is also good, ensuring that the outer layer is breathable and waterproof. That way you can shed or add layers as required, and of course you should always have a high-vis vest to ensure that you can be seen by motorists.

“Of course, there are many different walks in Sligo that people can enjoy, from town walks like at Doorley Park and at Cleveragh, through to rural and forest walks, not to mention along our amazing coastline. “There’s lots and lots of routes. There’s lots of wooded areas. If you look at SligoWalks.ie you can find out these areas, you can link in with Get Ireland Walking to find areas in different counties. There’s walking trails all over the county and even now a lot of the GAA clubs are doing the Healthy Ireland walks have set up walking routes around their clubs. There’s a huge amount of routes out there.”

Setting targets is also important, whether this means signing up for a walking event and planning your activity to prepare for that. Or perhaps you’d prefer to set your own challenge, like planning to climb Knocknarea on a particular day and working towards what you need to accomplish in advance of that. Either way, Shane says that setting personal goals is an important aspect of ensuring that you stay motivated and that your level of fitness improves over time.

Sligo Sport and Recreation Partnership have programmes for all levels of fitness and activity, and Shane is anxious to bring people to understand that there are lots of people out there who are currently inactive, but that with a little help and support, can soon get out and enjoy the many benefits of walking.

Walking the Killaspugbrone Loop in Strandhill – photo Sligo Sport & Recreation Partnership

“The best way to find out about it all is to visit www.sligosportandrecreation.ie and within our Active People section there we have a specific area around getting outdoors and walking. And within that there are groups all over the county. Within Sligo Town, we have things like the East City Walking group, we have Curry Moylough have set up a walking group, Enniscrone, Tubbercurry, Ballymote, the FRCs (Family Resource Centres) have set up lots of walking groups, all around community walking.”

And with all of these groups on our doorsteps, they are more than welcoming of new members, and Shane is there to help develop and promote new groups as well. “All the steps to follow are on our website, and they can contact us that way. There’s something there for everyone, depending on where you’re at. And if you want to take the next step and to get a little bit more serious about walking, you can look at SligoWalks.ie – they have contacts for the Sligo Walking Club, Sligo Mountaineering Club and you can bring it up into the next level. So there’s loads and loads out there, and you could not be walking in a better county than Sligo,” he says to conclude our talk.

And so say all of us! Thanks to Shane for providing all of that solid and sensible advice, and it’s great to know that so much local support is available. Walking is free, there are lots of places you can go, from literally walking out your front door, through to taking in some of the many tracks and trails around County Sligo. Hope to see you out and about, and if you’d like to hear the full interview with Shane about the benefits of walking, and some extra tips on gear to buy, visit the Podcasts section on the SligoWalks.ie website.