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Walk off the Winter Blues

This is the first of our "DO" articles, designed to help you master your fitness and take control of your health.

This winter has been tremendously mild, so much so that I can see buds coming out as I write this. It's given us a huge opportunity for getting outside and keeping active over the darker months.

A mild Winter is actually the perfect time for long bouts of gentle, sustained exercise. The equipment is minimal (warm jackets and sturdy boots), the paths are clear without the summer vegetation and visibility has been wonderful across the glens. In addition, walking for periods of an hour or more will release greater levels of the neuro-transmitter serotonin, sometimes nicknamed the mood boosting hormone.

In a study by Simon Young on how to increase serotonin in the human body without drugs, there were 4 methods found to be effective: meditation, bright light, exercise and diet. A winter walk will hit 2 of those straight away. If you have a bowl of homemade soup waiting for your return and some peace and quiet planned then you're set for the day.

In particular, if you've been looking to increase your physical activity it's the perfect place to start. Many of us know we need to exercise more and put it off during the colder season but why not view it as freeing up a difficult month with quite literally that step in the right direction? For regular exercisers, we should walk over the winter to keep our base fitness levels up at a time when we often avoid the usual forms of fitness. Fair weather golfers, tennis fans, gardeners and cyclists will all benefit from increased walking over winter.

Walking over the winter months means you'll enter spring time with an exercise routine already built in to your week. You'll be knowledgeable about your fitness abilities and less likely to overdo it when the weather improves. Your joints will be ready for an increase in activity and you'll progress faster with less chance of injury. You'll have kept the winter weight off and last year's summer clothes will look good straight away - a money saving plus!

If your work hours force you to leave and return in the dark then try a lunchtime walk. It's cold enough that you won't feel sticky or sweaty when you get back to your desk and clearing your mind during the day will make you more productive in the afternoon - double bonus. If you want to blow some cobwebs away look for suitable walks near your work.

Up here in the Scottish Glens we have amazing countryside but it makes sense to research first so you don't get caught out. A health walk will be anything from 1-2.5 miles and is usually suitable for everyone but an experienced walker may cover 12-15 craggy miles without turning a hair. It's your responsibility to get yourself out and back without the help of the Mountain Rescue but fortunately there are some great websites to help. WalkHighlands and WalkScotland have lots of information about established walks all over Scotland but what if you're not sure how much you can manage? Walking for Health and Paths for All are the best places to start for brand new walkers. They're nationwide groups designed to introduce you to gentle health walks or prepare you for longer excursions if you want. These groups provide social walks and are usually free to join. If you're concerned about your lack of fitness they will support you to build walking into your life.

So here's your first "DO". Why not commit to walking more? Make an action plan by answering these quick questions.

Make a plan now. Contact the walking groups near you and find out where and when they meet. I'm always here if you want support through a special challenge or one to one assistance with your health but I think you've got this one without me. Take the first step today to positive change and let me know how you're getting on. Facebook me or email me with your plans and Enjoy Good Health!

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