For the majority of people seeking to improve their health and fitness, walking is the safest, simplest, best form of exercise. Walking has a variety of valuable physical benefits such as assisting in making the heart and lungs perform more efficiently, keeping blood pressure properly regulated, decreasing the level of artery-clogging blood fats while increasing the level of high-density lipoproteins (the “good” HDL cholesterol), reducing the odds of developing heart disease, firming and shaping up muscles, relieving tension and raising one’s energy level. Walking also aids in weight loss, strengthening bones, and may serve to halt or lessen the degree of severity of osteoporosis (the bone-thinning disease that commonly occurs in older, inactive women but sometimes strikes younger women and, to a lesser extent, men). Walking is an activity that one can do practically anywhere at anytime, alone or with a companion.
Lately, walking has become the exercise of choice for millions of Americans trying to get and stay fit. Throughout the U.S., walkers attired in various styles of workout apparel, many wearing fanny packs around their waists, can be seen daily dotting the landscape as they energetically move back and forth.
When compared with that other popular aerobic exercise, jogging, walking causes less shock to the lower back, hips, knees, ankles and feet. The force of jogging can subject joints to impacts three to five times a person’s body weight each step. With walking, however, one foot always remains on the ground, thus the shifting of body weight is more fluid. For this reason, a walker lands with only one to one and a half times the force of his body weight each step.
True, walking does take a mite longer to do than jogging. But you can burn nearly as many calories (e.g., walking at a 15-minute-a-mile pace you can burn approximately 100 calories per mile, whereas jogging at a 10-minute-a-mile pace you burn roughly 20 calories more) and get nearly as good a workout by walking that mile as you can by jogging, bicycling or swimming at a moderate pace. The heart doesn’t make a distinction between any of these activities; its job is solely to deliver the blood and oxygen needed to the working muscles.
The heart muscle, like all the other muscles of one’s frame, needs to be challenged with exercise to keep it strong enough to receive and pump blood through the arteries and veins to the rest of the body. A heart that has developed strength and endurance through an aerobic undertaking such as walking has not only a lower resting and working rate of speed (i.e., performs its function using fewer beats) but also sends out more blood with each beat.
Moreover, walking enables a person to see the world in which he or she lives in greater detail. Scenery such as buildings, houses, trees, flowers and lawns become more noticeable when one is on a walk.
Walking also frees the mind for creative thought. Many walkers possess a belief similar to that of Henry David Thoreau, who once said, “Methinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” Akin to Thoreau, these walkers state that they do their most productive thinking while walking and are better able to solve complex problems.
Nevertheless, although walking is a low-impact exercise that’s less strenuous and less harmful than jogging, beginning walkers still should pay attention to taking those precautionary measures that will help protect them from injury.
In particular, along with putting on comfortable, unbinding clothes, they should wear lightweight, properly fitting walking shoes with enough support and cushioning in the heel and arch to minimize the pressure on their joints; being mindful of the calf muscles as well as the muscles at the front and the back of the thighs, they should do about 10 minutes of warm-up exercises and 10 minutes of warm-down exercises consisting of static (no bouncing) stretches – holding each stretch for 20 to 30
seconds, before and after walking to prevent damage to their muscles and tendons; and, they should attempt to walk on a flat cushioned surface to reduce the strain on their legs and feet. By following these precautionary measures, beginning walkers are less likely to get injured and require days or weeks of non-participation in exercise in order to recuperate.
Concerning form and technique, it’s best when walking to keep the body erect, head up, eyes looking straight ahead, shoulders down, buttocks tucked in and arms at waist level. Specifically, you should bend the arms at the elbows (at a right angle), with the elbows held out a bit from the sides and the arms pumping alternately from front to back with the stride. Try not to swing the hips from side to side as you walk. Each foot should land under the torso, almost flat and toward the heel. A short, heel-toe stride is recommended for walking by most authorities.
Perhaps more importantly, your walking pace should be one in which you are able to talk without becoming winded, without panting and gasping for air. This especially applies to those people just getting back into exercise after a two or three decades lay off.
Walking is so natural, so automatic that a lot of people tend to overlook its potential as exercise. One can walk at a brisk stroll, a rapid gait, or anywhere in between. Any of these speeds can aid walkers in reaping many of the benefits that come from working out.
To take a single instance, one of these benefits is: a delaying of the aging process. Recent medical research reports that millions of us cease to engage in activities that are physically demanding as we grow older; however, this same study says that involvement in such a rejuvenating activity as exercise can help to preserve our ability to carry out daily chores with relative ease as well as help to stave off the degenerative effects of aging. Even a moderate exercise program that’s done on a regular basis can promote better physical and mental health.
The widely held belief that exercising has to be a painful endeavor in order to create a favorable outcome is false. In reality, being consistent and persistent are much more essential to making beneficial improvements than how much pain you can endure during a workout.