Can you walk your way to fitness? Sure! It can help you maintain mobility, de-stress your mind, lower your blood pressure, and reduce your risk of a bunch of chronic diseases. Walking truly is one of the simplest activities that you can do to boost your health and well-being.
I can't believe it! Walktober is almost over and I still haven't written about how amazing walking is and how few of us take advantage of its benefits.
If you live in the same world as me, you will likely know that walking is no longer necessary for our basic everyday survival. For the most part, the average citizen can get by just fine without walking more than a few hundred meters most days of the week. Between all the cars, buses, subways, taxis, and home delivery services, it is unlikely that any of us are going to starve because we can’t (or won't) walk. Some folks will call this progress, but for many people who come to me wanting to regain their fitness and health, shunning those non-walking conveniences is the first place we start.
Being physically active throughout the day is one of the most important things people of all ages can do to improve their health. But despite all that we know about the benefits of movement, only half of North American adults and about a quarter of adolescents get the (extremely modest) amount recommended in national guidelines—30 minutes per day.
For those movement-less people, let me posit this: walking is a perfect path to fitness. And it doesn't require any special skills or expensive equipment.
What Walking Does For Us
It is true, walking bestows many beneficial changes to our bodies. Here are just a few:
- Healthy adult males who walk briskly experience lower resting blood pressure and postprandial triglycerides.
- Kids who walk to school are fitter overall than peers who do not.
- Walking improves longevity in women over 70.
- Older healthy adults who walk briskly live longer than those who don’t.
- Regular walking improves working memory in older adults.
- Walking programs improve cognitive ability in Alzheimer’s patients.
A study at Harvard of 12,000 adults found that people who live in cities have a lower risk of being overweight and obese than people who live in the suburbs. They found that in Atlanta, 45 percent of suburban men were overweight and 23 percent were obese; among urbanites, however, only 37 percent were overweight and 13 percent obese. The explanation the researchers arrived at was driving vs. walking.
Walking also has the added benefit of having a lower risk of injury than higher-impact activities like running. Plus, you can walk all year long. Trust me, I grew up in the Great White North.
For most people, there is little difference in the amount of energy used by walking a mile or running a mile, it simply takes longer. But keep in mind that as your fitness improves, you will be able to walk that same distance in less time or cover a longer distance, both of which will use more energy. You can read more about that in a blog post called Does Running or Walking Burn More Calories?
In order to get the most out of your walking, make sure your posture and stride is biomechanically solid. Here is how I'd like you to look while you are walking:
- Head is up, looking to the horizon, not at the ground.
- Neck is long and tall.
- Shoulders and back are relaxed, not stiff.
- Arms are swinging freely with a slight bend in your elbows. If you want, you can do some pumping with your arms.
- Stomach muscles are engaged but not sucked in.
- Back is straight, with your pelvis in a comfortable, neutral position (not rolled forward or back).
- Stride is smooth and even, rolling through your foot, from heel to toe. For some great tips on walking gaits, check out Katy Bowman's blog post called Walking or Bouncing.
My final piece of advice is to start at your own pace and distance and only walk in manageable increments, even if that is only for five minutes, three times a day. You can gradually increase both the length and intensity (or speed) of your walking over time as you develop stamina.
So there you have it! Get walking. Start today. Remember that even a little walking is beneficial, so lose the excuses and go for a walk already. Your life may depend on it!