Why walking is one of the most important things to do for your health.

Autumn hike

Lake Como, Italy

How far do you walk each day?

If you are an average Australian it’s about 3.2km (1). Doesn’t sound like a lot does it?

The introduction of trains, cars and planes has made the issue of distance negligible. We can be halfway around the world or visit family 100’s of km away in a single day. It has also made our innate form of transport appear time consuming and inefficient. I’m talking about walking of course. Walking is to “move along by putting one foot in front of the other, allowing each foot to touch the ground before lifting the next” (2) and it would take an awfully long time to visit uncle John in Albury by foot.

So whats so important about walking anyway?

  • It strengthens the heart and lungs, increasing overall fitness.
  • Improves muscular endurance and strength
  • Helps to improve circulation, particularly in the legs
  • It is weight bearing and vitally important for bone density
  • Low impact and less stressful for joints
  • Can assist in weight loss
  • Mental health benefits

How much should I be walking?

Experts suggest “30 mins of walking every or most days of the week” (4). This translates to roughly to 2-2.5km, well within the Australian average. But is the distance in and of itself enough?

Rewind to a time when walking was the only form of transport and it is estimated that our hunter gather ancestors walked an average of 4.5km per day (3). Granted we have had a couple of thousand years of evolution since then, but the fundamental physiology and bodily structure is still the same. This way of life satisfied the bodies desire for movement and equally as important as the walking distance, was the way in which they walked. The distances were varied depending on conditions and survival needs but it was combined with different speeds, slopes and on various types of terrain. Walking in this way requires a diverse range of movement through various joints and causes muscles to work in different ways, which is vital for function.

So perhaps the obstacle for the modern day walkers isnt walking distance, but walking in an environment which is flat, artificial and highly predictable; in shoes which don’t allow normal foot and ankle mechanics. There are few opportunities to vary our joint movement and loading by walking on uneven surfaces and slopes, or to utilise naturally stabilising muscles in the foot. Our feet have become accustomed to the cushioning and support that shoes often provide and would not thank us to kindly for completely removing it and putting them through a rigorous workout.

Here are some more foot friendly ways to gradually introduce new loads into your feet:

Foot mobilisation

Mobilising the foot

  • Enjoy some time without shoes in the garden, beach or even the house.
  • Seek advice on whether a transition to minimalist/ barefoot footwear might be appropriate
  • Use a ball to help mobilise joints of your foot.

 

 

Our environment has changed the way we move. The walking variability our body craves may not be always available to us but we can still walk more day to day for huge health benefits. Try these:

  • Take public transport
  • Park the car a short distance away if you’re driving
  • Suggest a walking meeting or coffee break
  • Walk with a friends or family
  • Take pets for a walk
  • Organise hiking holiday
  • Join a walking club
Hiking

Hiking in Sapa, Vietnam

Hippocrates said ‘walking is man’s best medicine’ and there is a growing body of evidence to suggest he may be right. Studies conclude that walking can be a successful tool in helping to manage chronic disease and functional disability (5), something that modern society has in spades. It is an ‘ideal  gentle start-up for the sedentary, inactive and immobile elderly’ (5) so lets not wait until we get sick to begin walking. It’s easy to start, just put one foot in front of the other.

References

  1. Care Australia
  2. Cambridge Dictionary
  3. Nutritious Movement
  4. Why a walking workout is good for your body
  5. Walking to health
  6. Better health

 

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