26 November 2015

Why you should walk more

Everyone knows that walking is good for you. The more you can walk, the better. Step counting wearables like smart watches and health trackers seem to be everywhere, and there are tonnes of signs in public parks and ads on tv telling us to walk as much as we can as often as possible. There are dozens of widely agreed upon and accepted benefits to walking more.  Here is a quick rundown of some of these benefits provided by the Victoria State Government, “Better Health” website:

  1. increased heart and lung fitness
  2. reduced risk of heart disease and stroke
  3. improves management of high blood pressure, joint and muscular pain or stiffness and diabetes
  4. strengthens bones
  5. improves balance and physical dexterity
  6. increases muscle strength and endurance
  7. enhances fat burning

So yes, of course walking is good for you. There aren’t too many that would refute this claim. That being said, there does seem to be a problem with how walking is viewed culturally. Walking is underrated. The value of walking is not as as strongly perceived as it should be. Whether people are trying to lose weight, prevent disease or illness, or reduce pain, or be more active in any way, walking doesn’t normally doesn’t get the same type of respect as the more traditional forms of exercise - weight training, ball sports, running, swimming, and the like. People will often commit to a 3x a week gym plan rather than think about how much, or little, they walk throughout the day.

Primal Blueprint Law #3 is “Move frequently as a slow pace.” This means that when it comes to long-term health, walking is the most important physical activity, and surpassed overall only by nutrition. Light activities like walking come before strength training (Law #4 Lift heavy things) and high intensity workouts (Law #5 Sprint once in awhile). Crafting a balance of these forms of physical activity that fits with personal circumstance is key, but the point still stands regarding which one is first. Not only are is the research regarding the points listed above near unanimous in agreeance, but there is a growing body of contemporary science supporting that light activity as often as possible is more beneficial for overall fitness than the much more strenuous, traditional workouts that people commit to at daily or weekly intervals.

These are the two main reasons walking is so important.

One - Walking provides a platform for calmness and contemplation amidst constant distraction
For many, life has become so busy, and so dominated by technology and digital communication that there are few avenues for simple reflection. Walking is perfect for this. While deliberate forms of mediation may not be comfortable for many, there are few things more accessible and widely enjoyed than a good walk. Whether it's a fast paced exercise, light time to catch up with a friend, quality time with the dog, or solo time to be at peace with one's thoughts, walking is amongst the purest forms of being at peace.

Walking is also the most flexible in most cases. It not only requires little time, money and effort, but how it’s done is near endless in possibilities. Walking can be at a hastened pace with a heart-rate monitor, slow, leisurely and meditative, incorporated with shopping or errands, a social catch-up with a good friend, or quality time with the family - including dogs! Because walking can be done under almost any personal, environmental or social conditions, it can always be approached as an enjoyable, relaxing and/or invigorating - whichever type of boost you may need.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in Twilight of the Idols wrote that “all truly great thoughts are conceived while walking. The ability to stare off into the distance, observe the world go by and the scenery change has been found to stabilise blood pressure, ease muscular tension and ease stressful thinking. It is these physical and psychological conditions that allow for lucid thoughts and clear vision. Walking provides the perfect balance of aimless distraction, and focused attention to critically reflect on one’s life in the hopes of honest, sophisticated learning.

Two - Walking is the easiest way to be physically active in an increasingly sedentary society
Our hunter-gatherer ancestors spent much of their time involved in light activities such as walking, fishing, hiking, foraging, gathering food, wandering and many other varieties of low-level intensity. Even for those who are skeptical of the “paleo” philosophy of ancestral health, it’s difficult to argue that as humans have become more industrialised, life has become on the whole, sedentary. Imagine how much more physically active one would have to be in order to wash clothes and dishes, mow lawns, and entertain without technology. People spend more time seated in the comfort of their own home than ever before.

As easy, convenient and quick as it is to drive everywhere, ride the elevator, play video games and stream every TV show or movie ever made is, it becomes harder to incorporate regular physical activity into our everyday lives. There isn’t much of a need to get out and do things as much as there once was, and while there are loads of benefits, there are as usual just as many points of concerns that come from long-term sedentary living.

Barring injury, walking is the simplest method of maintaining regular, low-level activity within a busy life, technology-driven life. It requires no money, imposes minimal pain and discomfort on the body, and can occur at any point regardless of time, and still be one of the most beneficial aspects of a healthy life. Unlike strenuous cardio or deliberate weight training sessions, a warm-up, special clothing and equipment, money, time, or any of the other legitimate aspects which tax on people’s professional and personal routines don’t exist.

Again, it’s so easy, and this makes it more important, not less.
It’s easy to walk more and this shouldn’t degrade its value, but enhance it. For those with the strictest of time tables, meetings can be taken, phone calls made and emails responded to on your feet without much disruption. Research even suggests that the brain is more creative and less distracted while undergoing slight levels of physical activity. This is why so many great ideas occur outside of work and away from the desk. In a survey put up on Google+, the vast majority of respondents identified walking as the most important aspects of their exercise regimen. Where walking often takes a back seat to more intense forms of exercise, it really should be embraced as the foundation of physical activity. Opting to take the stairs at work rather than the elevator, parking a bit further away, or taking using one bus stop before or after the closest one can make immense steps in improve health - pardon the pun.