These Bodies Are Made for Walking
There are no more excuses. Summer heat is dissipating, smoke veils have vanished, and blue skies are luring. It’s time for you to come out of your hiding spot, enjoy cool fall air breezes and invigorate your body to be ready and strong for the winter season to come. May I suggest a daily walk?
While walking seems such a benign activity, its health benefits are innumerous. Studies have shown that walking 30 minutes a day can lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of stroke and heart disease, promote greater endurance and muscle strength, help to slow the loss of bone mass from osteoporosis, improve the overall metabolism of your body, and slow mental decline. More so, walking briskly for 30 minutes burns a good 200 calories, aiding weight management or justifying the extra treat or beverage you might have just ingested.
Walking also supports joint health, because all the joint surfaces in the body have very little blood supply. Cartilages in the joints receive their nutrition and lubrication through the joint synovial fluids that get swished around through consistent motion, such as walking. Hence, “Motion is Lotion.”
Other studies have shown that regular exercising through walking for people in their fifties and sixties promotes greater chances for a longer life, unless you walk on busy train tracks. Brisk walking also induces the release of nature’s happy hormones, the endorphins, fostering a better attitude, which we all would benefit from during these turbulent times.
Now, that you are convinced that there is nothing else you would like to do in your life other than going on daily walks, I will offer some physical therapy insights on the mechanics of walking, to assure this truly becomes a good experience for you.
Proper shoewear might be the only financial investment one might want to consider when taking up walking. The feet are the first impact zone of all the forces that translate up from the ground into your body with every step you take. In general, a good walking shoe should be lightweight and provide decent shock absorption. A “good fit”, however, supersedes any other considerations of brands, padding, and supports, to avoid negative experiences such as blistering, abrasions, calluses, and repetitive strains. Many shoes offer various support systems. It is important to assure that these supports are matching your feet. If you feel that your feet would benefit from extra arch or heel supports, you might first want to consult your podiatrist, physical therapist, or get analyzed by a computerized foot screening machine, that some of our local shoe stores have, to get fitted appropriately.
As physical therapists, we frequently assess and correct the ways our clients walk to minimize strain and maximize efficiency. Faulty mechanics are often the reason for ankle, knee, or hip pains. Some key elements that appear frequently are:
Walking upright is essential. Walking upright means having your body over your feet. Many people have a bit of a swayback walk, literally leaning backward as they are walking forward. This leads to excess energy expenditure, as the legs now have to drag the body along, rather than pushing it forward, following the overall momentum. Let gravity and forward momentum be your propulsion, while the legs provide support for the body. If you are afraid of falling, use some walking sticks for extra balance and support.
In order to avoid stumbling and falling, many folks like to look down to see where they are stepping. However, looking down limits the peripheral visual field your brain needs to maintain good balance. I suggest keeping your gaze about 30 feet ahead. This allows the peripheral vision to see the whole environment, while also seeing objects that are at your foot level.
Practice a heel-to-toe weight transfer pattern to minimize the impact of ground reaction forces on your joints. I sometimes tell clients to think that their feet are rounded like a ball and that there is no hard impact at any point of ground contact, like walking on clouds being “as quiet as a Ninja.” The less you hear yourself walking, the less your body feels the repetitive impact of your body on the ground.
Relax the shoulders to allow the arms to swing naturally along with each step, as they serve to balance out the forces traveling through your body with each step. Studies have shown that arm swinging leads to overall decreased energy expenditure with walking which, in turn, affords greater endurance and enjoyment of walking.
Last, but not least, consider good pacing. Everyone has their own pace. Walking too slow might cause balance problems. Walking too fast might cause quick fatigue. Find the pace that affords a good 30-minute walk, leaving you invigorated and inspired to do it again.
Move better, live better.