Walk Your Way to Wellth
"Walking is man's best medicine" Hippocrates
As a Personal Trainer and Health Coach I provide exercise programs and lifestyle suggestions to clients. I wish I could do that in this blog. However, it is out of my scope of practice to provide these things without doing a formal health history and physical examination workup. For example, I need to know people's physical activity status and limitations as well as any health-related concerns, medications etc.
So, I can't provide specific workouts without a direct interaction or exercise prescription virtually, but I am willing to help anyone who desires it one on one after an evalutation. If you are interested, contact me, No charge.
In the meantime, I will make suggestions for, as my mission states, small changes that can make a big difference in your overall health.
I will start with walking. Unless a healthcare provider has told you not to walk, I would say walking is an activity that is universally beneficial, no matter your age, weight, financial status etc. It costs only a pair of good walking/running shoes, well-fitting socks, and appropriate clothing for walking indoors or out.
I am sure most of you have heard about how important it is to move regularly but do you listen to this advice? You should. As previously discussed, couch potatos are not getting healthier. Quite the opposite is true. The more you sit, the more you want to sit. It is so easy to get caught in this pattern with the abundance of great television, online games, social media activities etc. but your body doesn't care about any of these things. It was designed to move so move it should.
Reminder: Maybe we will eventually evolve to the point of needing limited mobility to maintain health. That is not where we are today, Until approximately 12,000 years ago, all humans practiced hunting-gathering. Technology has enabled humans to be sedentary but evolution of our bodies to adapt has not caught up.
Western cuisine (eliminating the need to work for our food) was born in the 17th century.
Basic Mechanics of Walking
Remember when your teachers put a book on your head and told you to walk without letting it fall off? Well, it's all good. The lesson was to maintain good posture. Good posture is important for every aspect of life including walking for exercise. Maintain an upright or slightly forward bend (5-10% of torso bending from hips). Cardio walking should be intentional, not a casual stroll through the park. Your stride should be comfortable for you but a medium stride is common for walkers.
You probably hear a great deal about a strong core. It's almost become a buzz phrase. It is truly important. Your core is everything other than your upper body (shoulders, arms) and lower body (legs).
While you are walking or doing any exercise activity you need to engage your core. That means keeping your midsection tight by contracting the muscles of the core. This prevents injury and helps to keep you stable.
Your foot should strike the ground heel first, then midsection and finally toes. Keep the flow forward, trying not to turn your foot out at an angle. Maintain equal strides and balance for both feet/legs. Try to keep your knees from going too forward (beyond your toes). Allow your arms to freely flow back and forth. It is a cheap way to expend energy and is the most efficient way to get the most out of your walk. When it is cold, it is common to put your hands in your pockets but try to avoid this. Your swinging arms is what ensures your body is balanced and upright. Try to stay relaxed, making sure your shoulder are down and back.
The latest trend in walking is to count steps. I am lucky enough to have an Apple Watch that I use to count my steps and other movement metrics but any inexpensive step counter will work. There are approximately 2000 steps in a mile, depending on your stride. Your target should be 15 minutes to walk a mile. Start wherever you are when you take a leisurely walk and boost it a notch to begin a walking program. Walk until you are fatigued and use that number of steps as a baseline from which to increase your walking duration and intensity.
It turns out that research supporting the 10,000 steps a day recommendation is limited and many believe this recommendation was derived from the name of a Japanese-made pedometer sold in the 1960s called Manpo-kei, which translates to “10,000 steps meter.”Lee I, Shiroma EJ, Kamada M, Bassett DR, Matthews CE, Buring JE. Association of Step Volume and Intensity With All-Cause Mortality in Older Women. JAMA Intern Med. Published online May 29, 2019. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.0899.
The average number of steps walked is around 5000, slightly less in the US. When I walk for exercise I target 11,000-12,000 steps a day but like all exercise, it takes time to build to this. Everyone needs to find their comfortable achievable number but 7000 steps will provide great benefit to your heart and fitness level.
Most importantly, watch your path for any obstacles. Walk on a reasonably clear surface unless you are hiking (different topic). It is hard if you live in a city to walk with crowds of people so if you have a better option, take it. These days there are so many trails and paths and parks that can accomodate you. Try to emotionally and spiritually disconnect from the worries of everyday life. This is time to take care of yourself and what better way than convening with nature or clearing your mind. One of the great things about exercise for me is that it's pretty hard to focus on life's difficulties while I am concentrating on my form, exercise, and heavy breathing. 🤪
1. Your feet
Ok, I will admit the one expense of walking/running or exercising that everyone needs to invest in is footwear. However you still don't need to spend a lot of money. There are less expensive brands and also many outlets and sales on athletic wear.
If you get into the habit of walking regularly, remember to check your shoes monthly for compression. Also check for your wear pattern - are you wearing your shoes down faster on one side than the other? It is important to make sure your shoes have not broken down because it can result in injury and diminished performance. Of course, how often you replace them depends on how many miles you walk or run. Every 300 - 500 miles or 6-8 months is the average. I replace mine every 6 months. I write the date I start wearing a new pair on the outside sole of my shoe so I never forget. Your old shoes can be used for everyday life, donated (places like DSW will take your old shoes and give you credit towards new shoes), to a second hand clothing store or to a homeless shelter.
"Walkers wear their shoes way too long," says Bonnie Stein, a racewalking coach in Redington Shores, FL. "They'll show me their soles and say, 'See, my shoes still have treads.' But well before your treads wear, your midsole shock absorbers die." At that point, your feet have to take over the shock-absorbing job. The result: chronic foot pain. https://www.prevention.com/fitness/fitness-tips/a20451401/when-should-you-replace-walking-shoes. Prevention Magazine actually recommends replacing your shoes even more often than 6 months. "If you walk for 45 minutes to an hour a pop, three times a week, get a new pair of shoes every 5 months."
Socks are also important for preventing blisters and other impacts from rubbing or an incorrect fit. It sounds funny to talk about socks that don't fit correctly but I have plenty and their are not walking friendly. I only wear socks that are designed for activity. The ones I wear are called Feetures but I am not endorsing any particular brand. I wear socks specifically designed for runners/walkers. Just make sure they fit tightly and don't slide down your heel. They need to be basically immobile while you are walking or running.
2. Your body
This is mostly common sense. Consider the following. Are you walking indoors or outdoors? What will the temperature be at the beginning and end of your walk/run? For example it may be cold when you begin and as you warm up you may get hot. The best way to deal with this is to wear layers. If you wear a lightweight jacket you can take it off during your walk and tie it around your waist.
Don't hesitate to go out for your walks in the winter if you live in a cold climate, as long as it is safe. Wear layers that you can remove as you warm up. Feet and hands tend to get the coldest and take the longest to warm up so warm gloves and socks are important. Even when I walk on a treadmill, I layer because when I start out I am usually cold but after 10 minutes I get too hot for the outer layers.
3. Your Mind
This was discussed earlier so please read above but don't neglect mindfulness while you are walking. I once walked right into a curb and lost my balance, cracking a bone in my foot so be mindful of your surroundings but also try to release your mind from stress. It is one of the biggest advantages of exercising.
In every walk with nature, one receives far more than they seek
modified from a John Muir quote