However most of us walk for a purpose, to get from A to B. You have probably heard that walking for its own sake is good for you and you may even know people who walk for their health, but is it real exercise? Perhaps it seems just a bit too easy compared with the serious stuff. The key point to realise about walking is that it conveys all of the benefits that more rigorous, harder to do exercise can achieve without potentially stressing the body.
The other factor that appeals is that anyone can do it, if you have two legs in working order and you are over the age of about one and a half then you can surely walk.
But why bother if you have a perfectly good car to take you where you want to go?
First let’s look at the psychological benefits; anyone who has enjoyed a good walk knows that they get a lift from being out and about. It may surprise you to learn that studies have actually been done on walking that show that it reliably boosts self-confidence, improves recall and reaction time, aids good quality sleep, helps control stress and anxiety, improves coping abilities, treats mild to moderate depression and generally elevates one's mood!
This may partly be explained using the measurable benefits of improving fitness but there is also a little more to it than that, walking fulfils a fundamental drive within us to be free and mobile, to move out of the confined spaces of our homes and work-places and to stretch our legs over the earth for a while. It is as if we need to lift our heads up from the business of our own lives for a while and feel our bodies moving, our eyes, ears and senses taking in that we are part of a greater whole.
How does walking around help us physically? Numerous, carefully designed studies have shown that walking improves or reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and back problems. All of the benefits of other forms of exercise may be equally given equally to walking but there are two that are worth mentioning in particular.
Firstly weight management; walking actually burns as much calories as activities that seem much more strenuous e.g. tennis and even more than others that might seem to make you work out harder e.g. cycling. Plus you don't need to do it all at once; you get just as much benefit from several short walks as one long one, an important point if your fitness level is starting out on the low side.
Secondly walking is a safe, pleasant and highly effective way to prevent bone deterioration with ageing; this is relevant for men as well, all of us begin to lose more bone tissue than we naturally replace as we get older. Walking, and other forms of weight bearing exercise, have been proven to effectively increase bone mass and density.
When you are walking try to feel a sense of flowing forward rather than marching. Stand tall and feel your whole spine stretched from the base upwards. Roll your foot from heel to toe and your steps will spring instead of plonk. When you are going uphill, slow down, lean forward and put more energy into your arm swings. When you are going downhill take shorter steps and plant your feet gently instead of slapping them down.
People who take up walking regularly are usually amazed at how much their fitness improves. Most importantly of all for anyone trying to sustain a successful health program is that when people who get into walking generally stay into it.
Because if you enjoy it, why would you stop?
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