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Getting Back To The Basics Through The Power Of Walking

The main excuse I constantly hear when it comes to not exercising is, “I don’t have the time; I’m just too busy.”  Over the years I Walkinghave challenged people that no matter how busy they think they are, I can find time for them in their schedule to get daily exercise.  In response, I will get the look of “Oh, sure. You just don’t understand my life.”  I hate to break it to folks who think they are the busiest person in the world and no one has a schedule as full as theirs: You are not the busiest person in the world, and your claim is just another poor excuse to avoid putting in the time to get some exercise.  As a person who regularly traveled 60 percent of the year,  including overseas travel required in a very mentally and physically challenging job, I still managed to find time to exercise. I’m afraid I don’t buy the “too busy” excuse for a second.

I like to tell people there is always one thing they can do every day to get exercise, and as a matter of fact they do it every day anyway, and that is walking!  The dumbfounded looks I get in response are priceless, but in today’s exercise-gimmick world this is just too simple a solution for people to believe or understand.  When it comes to walking you don’t have to purchase a gym membership, or some infomercial exercise DVD set, or outfit yourself with special exercise gear. You have all the tools you need to engage in this form of exercise right now for free.  What a deal! And after you read this article you can get right out of your chair and go do it, no training or expertise required.  It just doesn’t get any easier than that!

I know you are wondering right now,  “How am I going to get in shape or be healthier by just walking?”  You will be pleasantly surprised to learn how powerful daily walking can be to propel you towards better health and muscle tone. I learned about the power of walking while recovering from back surgery and I now walk every day for 30 to 45 minutes.  My favorite time is in the evening after dinner, as the postprandial walk has traditionally been “prescribed” to assist with digestion and to help release some of the daily stress that might otherwise interfere with a good night’s sleep. In fact, when I was growing up I remember my grandparents regularly walked every evening with me and my sister. To this day we look back at those walks with fond memories.  What a great way to get the kids and pets together for a pleasant evening ritual that is not only bonding, but healthy for everyone involved.

In a recent study conducted at Duke University Medical Center, researchers found that walking briskly for 30 minutes every day lowers your odds of developing metabolic syndrome, (a cluster of risk factors linked to higher risks of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke).  In addition, Rodney Wilson, a professional fitness consultant at Kingston’s Queens University indicates a good walking program can lower blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar, as well as increase flexibility of muscles and joints, upper and lower body strength, reduce percentage of body fat, and contribute to a positive mental outlook.  Walking also appears to help brain function and reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s disease.  For older individuals walking can help improve or maintain bone density.

You can now see the many benefits of walking, so how do you get started on your own walking program?  Obviously it is pretty easy: you get up off the couch and go for a walk! However, if you haven’t exercised or walked much distance for some time a few precautions should be taken.  Probably the most important part of your walking routine is to make sure you walk in a comfortable pair of shoes, or even better is to go barefoot and get some grounding in if you can (See article on grounding/earthing “Getting Grounded: The Natural Way To Healing”).  Also make sure you are dressed comfortably for exercise and for the weather of the day. Of course make sure where you will go walking is safe. For me, the less traffic the better. Being surrounded by a hectic atmosphere can increase stress, so try to avoid these areas if possible.  If you decide to walk at night make sure you wear reflective clothing or shoes so cars can see you.  No matter day or night always carry a cell phone, and for safety reasons have 911 as a quick preset in your phone if it is ever needed.

Fortunately for me I live in sunny California so I can usually walk all year around, but for those of you in areas of more extreme weather you will have to find some places that are inside if you are to get your walking exercise in all year long.  The best place when the weather is bad is your local mall, but remember, you are there to go walking not to go shopping, so try to separate the two activities.  Also museums are great places to walk and you just might learn some new facts to impress your friends!

Make sure to do some light stretching before you start your walk and do additional stretching once you have finished.  For beginners I recommend you go for a 10-15 minute walk and see how you feel. If you feel light headed or dizzy you need to stop immediately.  To make sure you are not over exerting yourself it is a good idea to get a heart rate monitor device, which can be found at your local athletic store.  If you feel fine after your first initial walk I would start with walking 10-15 minutes 3 times a week.  Use proper form and try not to slouch, walk upright keeping your back straight.  Keeping your back straight  will assist you in filling your lungs fully with air. When you slouch it is harder for you to breathe because your compressed posture puts additional pressure on your lungs. Also try to keep your breathing as steady as possible, which will help you find a comfortable walking pace.  Most people like to swing their arms back and forth slightly to get into a groove or find a steady pace.

Experiencing some soreness after a good walk is not unusual if you have been unaccustomed to this form of exercise. You will be working muscles that you haven’t worked in a long time.  Usually your shins will be sore as there is a muscle in the shin that you use while walking to move your foot up and down.  Your calves will also probably be sore along with some tightness in your thighs and hamstrings.  Slow gentle stretching will help alleviate this soreness, and if you pull a muscle while starting your walking program make sure to ice it and let it rest until you are ready to start up again.

As you progress, increase the time  and frequency of your walks.  There is no magic formula, so you will need to gauge this on your own.  The goal is to walk every day for 30 to 45 minutes. How you get there will be determined by your progress.

Remember, walking should be fun so try to mix up your routes and do some exploring. You never know, you just might get to know some of your neighbors and find some new friends, I know I have.  You can also try to persuade a friend or family member to walk with you. Don’t be selfish, share the health!

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Gary Collins, MS

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