Is walking exercise? I hear this question a lot and it makes me scratch my head! Of course walking is exercise and it’s one of the best forms of exercise. The human body was made to amble and most people can walk, even if it’s just around the block or to the mailbox and back.
If you don’t do any other form of exercise, consider adding a daily walk to your routine to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.
One reason walking is of tremendous health benefit is that your whole body walks, not just your lower half. The feet and ankles flex and extend, the hips rotate, and the shoulders move back and forth as the body moves forward.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that after a long car ride, you stand up stiff as a board from sitting. Once you walk around for a bit the body feels more loose, less stiff, and a whole lot happier. That’s because walking gets blood moving, stretches the muscles and surrounding fascia, and your lymph fluid, which is the heart of the immune system, begins circulating again.
You would have to live in a cave not to have seen the incredible increase in devices that track the number of steps you take. While there really is no hard data supporting the idea that recommended 10,000 steps is the magic amount for health and wellness, measuring the number of steps you take and then slowly increasing that over a few weeks is a great goal to increase your fitness.
If you haven’t exercised in a long time, walking is a great way to start and here are some tips to begin a walking program safely:
- Get rid of those old pair of worn out shoes. A small investment in shoes with good support will make this new experience much more pleasant.
- Start with a short distance, to the end of your driveway or around the block and increase from there. Listen to your body, before increasing the distance. A little soreness from starting a new routine is fine but acute soreness or shortness of breath may indicate something else going on and you may want to check with your doctor.
- If you get bored walking, use headphones to listen to music, audio books or podcasts to make the time go by more quickly.
- Find a walking buddy – friend and/or a dog makes it more likely you will get out and move around.
- If you’re just starting out, don’t worry about how fast or far you travel, just enjoy the walk and build up your distance a little more each week. You’re shooting for a minimum of 30 minutes three or four days a week.
If you’ve been exercising or walking regularly and want to increase the intensity of your walking consider the following:
- Buy a fitness tracker that includes a pedometer. Set a goal for the number of steps and increase it until you’ve achieved your goal.
- Be conscious of your posture, especially as you walk faster. You should be leaning slightly forward but not bent over. Your gaze should be out in front of you rather than down at your feet. Let you arms swing naturally and you should feel like the leg and foot behind you is pushing you forward — this is where your power comes from.
- Find some hills in your neighborhood and walk quickly up the hills, catching your breath when you need to.
- If you’ve been walking hills regularly and want more intensity, consider using a backpack with some weight (water bottles, rocks, dumbbells, etc.).
- Hiking is an advanced form of walking where the ground is more uneven and requires good balance but will positively challenge to your fitness. Once you feel comfortable walking around your neighborhood, think about giving one of our local trails a try!
The American College of Sports Medicine has some helpful guideline for increasing your fitness with walking including the number of steps your should shoot for depending upon your fitness goal: https://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/starting-a-walking-program.pdf
One of the best benefits from walking is not the physical but the psychological. My brain works out problems and is far more creative when I am strolling along. If I have writers block, a walk up the road often opens up a flood ideas. Take a walk this weekend, then let me know how it goes!
Read more of Virginia Eaton’s blog posts here.
Virginia Eaton is the owner of Oakhurst wellness center Class: The Body Pastiche