October 2022 Issue
Energy Express by Marilynn Preston
Everything about walking is good for your well-being—unless you're doing it with a bag of Oreos. It builds strength, reduces your risk of heart disease, juices up your joints, calms your mind and helps you and your cocker spaniel live longer, happier lives.
Some scoff at walking, dismissing it as exercise-lite, not cool, maybe even a waste of your recreational time. These people should be taken with a grain of pink Himalayan salt.
Walking works wonders. Even a little bit of walking goes a long way toward shifting you from a sedentary lifestyle to a more active one, with more energy and looser jeans. It's that shift from sedentary to active that leapfrogs you down the path to a healthier lifestyle. Not long ago, two scientists sifted through 4,295 published articles on walking written between 1970 and 2007. Their conclusion: Yes, even a modest walking program offers significant protection against many medical problems associated with old age. Death, for instance.
How modest is modest? Walking has protective benefits even if you just manage to walk 5.5 miles over the course of a week, going as slowly as 2 miles an hour.
So what if you're passed by small children or people carrying groceries? Walking is not a competitive sport. Be happy to know you're starting where you are and improving your health, step by step. When your confidence grows, and your body adjusts, you will want to pick up the pace. When that day comes, celebrate. It means you and your body are more in tune, and exercise goes from mild punishment to pleasure.
Go with that flow. Walk longer distances. Walk at a faster pace. Experiment with sprinting for 30 seconds, backing off to a comfortable pace for 90 seconds and then sprinting again. This kind of interval training will make your walking program even more wondrous.
To overcome your natural lethargy, try this: Dress for the weather and tell yourself that if you don't like it, you'll stop after 5 minutes. Step outdoors. Begin to notice your breath. Start walking.
Keep breathing, and keep going. Let yourself quit after 5 minutes, but chances are, you'll want to keep going. If you get tired, rest.
Boredom is a choice. You can amuse yourself with some cheerful music or an audiobook. Or you can calm the chatter and cruise, exploring the link between mind and body and breath that is so stimulating, satisfying and soothing to your whole system.
Do NOT—and I don't mind repeating myself here, in case you're simultaneously reading this column and driving your car—do NOT talk on your cellphone while walking.
This is a form of multitasking that taxes the brain, jams the energy circuits and distracts you from the wide world around you—the sounds, the smells, the flower boxes, the dog poop.
Here are a few more of the million tips I could give you about one of my favorite sports:
Consider Your Shoes:
Walking in worn-out, ill-fitting shoes can, over time, cause injuries. You don't need to buy an expensive pair of walking shoes, but you do need a pair that fits well, with cushioning and support. Walking in shoes with little structure—barefoot walking—also brings rewards. Wiggle your toes, feel the ground. Experiment!
Quicken the Pace:
Once you've established the habit of going for a walk, challenge yourself to pick up the pace. Look ahead, to a nearby tree or intersection, and walk toward your goal taking quicker steps, not longer ones. Push, push, push ... and then relax. It's a variation on the theme of interval training and a great way to step up your walking routine.
Use Your Arms: Have you ever seen a racewalker?
They can do 5-minute miles—walking! One secret to their jet propulsion is clever use of their wings. Instead of letting your arms dangle at your side, do what they do and bend your arms to a 90-degree angle, elbows close to your body. As you walk—shoulders relaxed, eyes focused ahead (not down)—pump your arms forward and back with purpose and passion.
Work up to 30 minutes a day—or more:
When you find the time—it's there!—you find the path.
FOOTLOOSE AND FANCY-FREE
"Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time." —Stephen Wright
Marilynn Preston—healthy lifestyle expert, well being coach and Emmy-winning producer—is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. Follow her at www.marilynnpreston.com.
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