11 Tips to Get the Most Out of Beach Walking

Older woman walking on the beach

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It’s no secret that walking is a great form of exercise for adults of all ages to maintain a physically active lifestyle. In fact, research has shown that walking one to two hours per day supports longevity and vitality as we age. 

Whether you savor a contemplative solo stroll by the sea or a power walk through the sand to break a sweat, beach walking is a wonderful way to clear your mind and exercise your body.

Health Benefits of Beach Walking

Relaxing as it may be, beach walking also offers an opportunity to incorporate some low-impact cardiovascular exercise into your beach day. When you traverse the soft surface of the sand, you use more energy compared to walking on harder surfaces like grass or pavement, which means you'll burn more calories as a result.

As you sink into the sand with every step you take, the extra physical effort involved to lift the foot out of the sand strengthens the muscles, joints, and tendons in the feet and ankles. In fact, a 2013 review notes that many athletes use "sand training" to build strength and prevent injury in a number of team sports.

Walking on the beach is also easier on the joints. And outdoor activities like walking on the beach are highly restorative and give our mental health a boost, too. Research has indicated that exercising near a body of water such as a lake, river, or ocean can improve mood and even self-esteem.

Walking for exercise boasts a number of health benefits including decreased mortality, reduced risk of heart disease, and weight loss. Research has found that beach walking also enhances psychological well-being.

Tips for a Better Beach Walk

Walking on the beach can be enjoyed solo, with your dog, or accompanied by your partner or a friend. You might even invite the whole family to join in the fun.

Beach walking is a nurturing activity for both body and mind. Savor some time unplugged in nature by silencing your phone and leaving it in your pocket while you walk. You may find that you prefer the sound of the crashing waves over your favorite workout playlist. Here are 11 tips for getting the most out of a beach walk.

Warm-Up on a Solid Surface

Before you set out for your walk on the beach, begin with a few minutes on the pavement or boardwalk. You can also warm up on the hard-packed sand. This will help stretch your muscles and warm up your feet and ankles before you trek through the softer sand—just be sure you wear appropriate footwear.

Walking Shoes, Sandals, or Barefoot?

If you are going for a longer walk, you should wear proper athletic shoes or athletic sandals that will support and guide your feet. Footwear will also protect your feet from glass, metal, or sharp rocks that may be hidden in the sand. However, you may not want to wear your best pair of walking shoes on the beach, as they are bound to get sand in them.

Whether you choose shoes over sandals or go barefoot entirely depends on a few factors, including your level of fitness and how long you plan to walk on the beach. Keep in mind, however, that people with diabetes should not walk barefoot because they are at more risk for complications if they get a cut.

Walk Barefoot for Short Distances

Slip out of your walking shoes or sandals and enjoy the feeling of sand between your toes and waves lapping over your ankles as you wade through the surf. The sand will even help smooth out calluses on your feet.

However, it's best to go barefoot for short distances only, especially if you're new to beach walking. You can gradually add on more time as you build strength to prevent strains and injuries.

Walking barefoot for longer distances, especially in soft sand, can result in muscle and foot pain as your range of motion is extended further than normal. Barefoot beach walking for longer durations can sometimes cause plantar fasciitis, so it's advisable to wear proper footwear if you're going the distance

Walk on Soft Sand for a Workout

Whether you wear shoes or go barefoot, walking through soft sand gives you more of a workout than walking on packed sand or even a solid surface. Think of it like climbing a hill. Build up your strength and endurance on soft sand over the course of several days rather than going out for a long walk all on soft sand.

It's also a good idea to keep most of your walking on the hard-packed sand near the water or a boardwalk or paved path until you've had a chance to train your muscles for softer sand. A note for runners: Be sure to stick to the hard sand to avoid injury.

Adjust for the Slope

You'll discover that if you walk any distance in one direction on a beach that you have an uphill foot and a downhill foot. The foot closest to the ocean can sometimes be an inch lower or more than the foot closer to dry land. This misalignment can become tiresome and send you off-kilter, which could also lead to strain and injury.

You may want to plan your walk so that you trek a quarter of the distance in one direction, then turn around and walk back to your starting point and continue on in the other direction. That way, you'll perform two changes in direction, which can help relieve the effects of the uneven slope.

Walk Into the Wind

People go to the beach to fly a kite because of the obvious reason that it is often windy. On a beach walk, you may want to begin by walking into the wind so that the wind is at your back on your return journey. That way, when you start to get tired, you'll get an assist from the wind instead of having to fight against it.

Wear Sunscreen and a Hat

There is no shade on a beach walk, so you'll want to protect your skin with sunscreen. Even on a cloudy or foggy day, there's enough UV exposure to give you a sunburn. You'll also want to apply lip balm to protect your lips from the sun's harsh rays as well as the wind. Wear a walking hat or a Buff that won't blow off easily.

Drink Plenty of Water

If you're walking for more than 30 minutes, consider bringing water, or know where the drinking fountains are located along the way. A sunny beach and whipping winds can cause dehydration. You should think of replenishing with water each mile. Take along a water bottle to drink and refill at least once for longer walks.

Keep Your Eyes on the Surf

There doesn't have to be a tsunami for ocean waves to turn deadly without warning. Sneaker waves can suddenly run far up the beach and knock you over, possibly washing you out to sea. Large pieces of driftwood can roll in on a sneaker wave and have been known to injure or even kill unwary beach walkers.

Pay Attention to Tides

For any walk that's longer than 30 minutes, it's important to know whether the tide is coming in or going out. A seemingly wide and welcoming beach can become a tiny scrap of sand when the tide comes in.

Small streams you easily stepped across earlier could transform into deep channels with a rising tide. If you crossed an outcropping next to the surf, your way may be blocked once you've turned around and are on your way back. Walking during low tide is the most ideal, especially if you're on a longer beach walk.

Obey Beach Laws

In some states, all ocean beaches are public. But that isn't always the case in other places, where private beach properties may mean that some areas are off-limits. Learn where you are welcome to walk and where you should avoid trespassing. Otherwise, it may be lead to a fine, or in worse cases, you could wind up in jail.

Similarly, some beaches forbid walking your dog, while other beaches may require that all dogs remain on a leash. Pay attention to the signs and obey the beach's laws. Even if your dog is free to roam off-leash on certain beaches, play with your pet in a safe manner to avoid unpleasant encounters with other dogs or wildlife.

Be sure to pick up after your pet, too, but use caution when picking up anything else, like shells or rocks. Be aware of what you're allowed to take home versus what flora and fauna need to stay on the beach. And of course, don't leave any trash behind, either.

Beach walking is a relaxing way to sneak in some exercise while you're on vacation or holiday or simply enjoying a beach day. Remember to warm up and wear the right shoes if you're walking long distances, and stick to the hard-packed sand to avoid injury if you're a beginner beach walker.

If you're unsure whether beach walking is a safe option for you, consult your doctor to get cleared for exercise. If you have any joint issues or chronic pain in your feet, knees, hips, or lower back, or if you have diabetes, beach walking could place additional stress on these regions. But generally speaking, a leisurely walk on the beach is a suitable activity for most age groups and abilities to enjoy.

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