Walking for Health

walking for health

Whenever I start working with a new client, and we start talking about exercise, I always advise them to start walking.  No matter what their current health status, I recommend walking for everybody.  Why?  Simply put, it is the easiest exercise to do, can be done by everybody and has tremendous health benefits.  

First off, if you happen to be one of those hardcore fitness nuts who think that walking is just not intense enough for you, then you need to reset your thinking.  While I may agree that walking is not really an intense exercise modality, what you need to understand is that it conveys lots of health benefits and is, therefore, worth adding to your daily/weekly regimen.

The story human evolution is a story of constant movement and progress, of yearning and seeking and exploring. Underlying all that is the simple, physical act of walking.  Mark Sisson has written that walking is “this perfect storm of anatomy, anthropometry, and biology that made us obligate walkers so that even as food sources changed, as stalks of wheat and fences shot up around us, as nomadism gave way to agrarianism gave way to urbanism, humans used controlled falling (walking) as our primary mode of transportation. Neolithic farmers walked. Medieval peasants walked. Mayan warriors walked. Slaves, monks, artisans, fish mongers, cobblers, Union soldiers all walked. Victorian-era laborers walked an average of six miles a day. Modern Amish, a decent proxy for pre-industrial agrarian people, still walk nearly 15,000 steps (females aged 18-75) and 19,000 steps (males aged 18-75) per day.  We have to walk.”

4 Reasons to Walk

Fat Loss

The best reason to include walking in your pursuit of fat loss is because it helps to burn more total calories while minimizing orthopedic, systemic, and mental stress.  Choose to invest your stress reserves in meaningful and intense training, like heavy strength training or metabolic resistance training WOD’s.  Use walking to help decrease stress and cortisol levels.

According to Dr. John Rusin, one of the most influential bodybuilders of our time, Dorian Yates used walking as a secondary cardio in the preparation for many of his Mr. Olympia titles. He was, and still is, jacked and conditioned to the brink of physical perfection. And he used long duration walking to spark fat loss.

Recovery

Walking can actually help to speed recovery in your joints and central nervous system.  Dr. John Rusin, a physical therapist who works with elite athletes, states the following:
“During the active coordinated gait cycle, musculature of the legs, arms, and core become engaged in a reciprocal pattern in an on-and-off nature. This pattern taps into the oblique slings of the body made up of the glutes, core, lats, and pecs, in conjunction with agonist/antagonist contractions of the extremities in order to move the body forward smoothly.

These synergistic muscle actions place pressure through the lymphatic and venous systems in order to push excess fluid that’s accumulated through local stress back into central circulation. From there, excess fluid will be excreted centrally. Managing local and systemic inflammation is the name of the game in recovery, and walking is the simplest way to do it.”

Pain Alleviation

Walking has the potential of being a significant pain reliever. It activates important spinal stabilizers and triggers blood flow to bodily tissues that need activity.  Chronic low back pain is all too common these days.  The lower back muscles that typically contribute to chronic low back pain are the quadratus lumborum and the norotious psoas (muscles located on the back and front sides of the spine). These muscles integrate the lumbar spine with the pelvis/hip complex.

When low back pain occurs, these muscles become tight and tend not to activate properly.  Research with athletes has shown that walking can be a functional remedy for these two muscle groups.

Improved Cognitive Performance

When one walks, the increased blood flow that occurs doesn’t just go to the active muscles, but rather also gets shuttled to the brain.  Increased cerebral blood flow helps to decrease the risks of cardiovascular and degenerative diseases, and it also boosts mental creativity. Some of the most innovative minds the world has ever known, such as Einstein, Da Vinci, and a host of influential thinkers, were dedicated walkers.

It has been shown that even short bouts of 10-15 minutes of daily walking can trigger an increase in creative juices and help to stimulate deep critical thinking.   So, if you are the typical office worker and feel sluggish in the early afternoon, after eating lunch, you may want to consider a 10-15 minute walk to help increase your afternoon productivity.

Ways to Make Walking More Exciting

So, you are now thinking, “yeah, I know that I should get some walking in, but it’s just so boring.”  All right, here are some ways to make it more exciting.

  • Go for a hike or a simple walk in the woods.Getting into nature has shown real cortisol-lowering effects.Get out in nature!
  • Agility Walking.I’m not sure who coined this term but it’s a pretty cool concept.Simply put, it is a way to add some flare to a basic walk.Got a hill to go up – jog it.Got a hill to go down – walk it.See a fallen tree – jump over it.Park bench – step up and walk across it.See a large rock on the side of the road – pick it up and walk 10 yards with it, then drop it.Mix it up and be creative!
  • Walk to the store or the bank.Don’t always use the car.
  • Walk at different times of the day.Safety needs to be a the number one priority, but why not get up early and do an early morning walk and watch the sun rise? Walk after lunch…..or after dinner….or both!Go for a night-time stroll.Walk in the heat.Walk in the cold.
  • Walk barefoot sometimes.Don’t try this on a road.But on the beach – hell yes.How about across a grassy field – absolutely!

Summary

Henry David Thoreau wrote that he couldn’t “preserve [his] health and spirits” without spending “four hours a day at least – and commonly more than that – sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements.”

Maybe you can’t afford that much time for walking, but most likely, most folks can walk more than they currently engage in. The human walking genes, the urges to explore the world are still strong within all of us, and it makes sense to honor and indulge them.   Go for a walk today!

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