‘Walking is man’s best medicine
For centuries we have known that walking is good for our health and wellbeing. The Victorians were famous for their ‘constitutional’ walks. Early evening promenades are still as common a feature of daily life in Mediterranean countries as they were generations ago.
Most people walk for pleasure – a family walk at the weekend, an evening walk with the dog, a lover’s stroll, a hike or ramble in the countryside, walking around the golf course (the worse you play, the more exercise you get!).
In fact, UK surveys have regularly shown that walking is the most popular form of physical activity with British adults – way ahead of other sports and pastimes such as swimming, cycling, jogging, attending a gym or exercise classes.
So, what’s so special about walking. Well, first and foremost, it’s simple and it’s natural. It uses your muscles for exactly what they were designed to do. It’s controlled and rhythmical, covering the ground at a swinging pace that is fast enough to be rewarding, yet slow enough to be too exhaustive. You don’t need to change into special gear, you can just step out of the door and walk. It’s also a low-risk activity, where the likelihood of getting injured is very slight. So walking is a great activity for all of us.
People who walk for exercise usually enjoy walking for other reasons as well – they feel, in a vague sort of way, that it is good for them – not only in a physical sense but also in a mental and spiritual one. Walking does something for both the heart and mind!
Many people walk because it helps them to relax, to get away from the strains of living. A good walk can help iron out anger, frustration and tension.
At first glance, walking may not seem like much of an exercise to get you fit. After all, plenty of out-of-shape people walk. But in fact, walking can provide virtually the same cardiovascular benefits as distance running.
In one study conducted at our Laboratories at UCC, a group of sedentary 30-50 year olds walked briskly for 40 minutes, 3 times a week, for 3 months. On average, they improved their aerobic fitness by 25%, their heart rates during exercise decreased by 10beats/min, they showed significant decreases in body fat and their lung function improved. They also reported feeling much better and much healthier – apart from the odd blister!
A classic study on London transport workers in the 1950s & 60s showed that bus drivers had around TWICE the incidence of heart attacks compared to the bus conductors. It was subsequently shown that a major factor in this was the amount of walking done by the bus conductors. The conductor on a double decker bus climbed the equivalent of going up – and coming down – the Empire State Building every day!
Another study from the 1980s on British postal workers showed that the delivery postmen had HALF the incidence of heart disease as the sedentary office workers. The walking element of the job was shown to have a significant protective effect.
Also, among those who take up exercise, walkers appear to have the lowest drop-out rates and report the fewest injuries, aches or pains. One study reported that the dropout rate from a walking programme was less than half that of most other activities.
Walking has often been called the perfect exercise because of its many advantages and astounding health benefits. Keep reading and you’re sure to develop an urge to go for a walk……
Health Benefits of Walking:
- strengthens your heart
- reduces your risk of heart attacks and stroke
- improves your blood circulation
- improves your breathing and lung efficiency
- reduces blood fats and cholesterol
- helps weight loss and permanent weight control
- helps control blood pressure
- strengthens bones and helps prevent osteoporosis
- tones muscle and develops lean tissue
- reduces stress
- improves endocrine (hormone) functions
- improves self-esteem and body confidence
- improves your posture
- makes you look and feel younger
- gives you more energy
How to Start:
Most people don’t require a medical check-up before embarking on a walking programme.
But, if you answer YES to any of the following questions, then see your GP for advice and medical clearance:
- Has your doctor ever told you that you have heart trouble? Yes/No
- Do you frequently have pains in your heart and/or your chest? Yes/No
- 3. Do you frequently feel dizzy or have spells of severe dizziness? Yes/No
- Has a doctor ever told you that your blood pressure was too high? Yes/No
- 5. Do you have any bone or joint condition such as arthritis,
that might be aggravated or made worse by exercise? Yes/No
- Is there another physical reason (not mentioned) which might require
special attention in an exercise programme?
(e.g. asthma, bronchitis or insulin-dependent diabetes) Yes/No
- Are you over 50 and not accustomed to moderately vigorous exercise? Yes/No
Clothing & Shoes
Wear comfortable, casual clothes and a good pair of cushion-soled shoes, trainers or boots.
Dress for the weather and the terrain over which you plan to walk.
- Try to walk tall with your head level and shoulders relaxed.
- Reach out your leg with your knee, heel and toe pointed forward in the direction of travel.
- Use smooth movements rolling from heel to toe.
- Let your arms swing naturally at your sides in rhythm with your stride.
- Breathe in and out naturally and rhythmically.
- Warm-up with some gentle limbering and stretching exercises.
- Cool-down at the end of your walk with some gentle limbering and stretching exercises.
- Begin slowly for a few minutes, then pick up the pace by quickening your steps and lengthening your stride.
- “Walk and Talk”. If you are getting breathless, slow down.
- “Listen to your body”. If you feel pain, dizziness or nausea, then slow down and stop if necessary, to recover.
- Walk before a meal – or around one hour after eating, to give time for food to be digested (slightly longer if it is a heavy meal)
- Walk with a friend for pleasure and safety.
- Walk facing the traffic.
- Drink small amounts of water before, during and after exercise, particularly if the weather is hot and you are sweating heavily.
- Build up your fitness gradually over several weeks. Don’t try to go too fast or too far, too soon.
- Try to make walking a part of your daily life.