I have never been the sportive type. My husband Tom and I did an occasional walk during the week and for me that was enough. Until I sprained my ankle. The physiotherapist hammered into me that walking for health reasons is not a luxury, but a necessity. I really should take it more seriously.
He was right of course. There are so many benefits from something as simple as walking that I considered myself not too smart postponing it for such a long time. Nowadays I am addicted. 🙂
The benefits listed here are not only achieved through walking, but through any kind of exercise.
The main advantages of walking are that it is easy to do, cheap, as you don’t need an expensive gym subscription, and that it has a relatively low impact on the joints of our body.
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Table of contents
- 1 Why walking for health benefits pays off
- 2 Postpone disease
- 3 Several ways of walking
- 4 Recommended to do
- 5 Traps to avoid
- 6 Graded activity after being injured
- 7 Measuring and motivating yourself
- 8 Walking for health benefits
Why walking for health benefits pays off
First of all a disclaimer: despite the benefits of easy to do and low impact on your body, if you have any medical condition or haven’t been active for quite some time, do see a specialist. This can either be the GP, a personal trainer or a physiotherapist.
Later in this article I describe a proven strategy of a regime to follow after an injury (link). It’s a good idea to follow that strategy as well when you are a beginner.
- Improves balance. A perfect practice for fall prevention;
- Stronger bones;
- Prevents or improves arthritis;
- Claims to suppress or delay cancer;
- Prevents cardiovascular disease. Makes the heart stronger because the blood is pumped through the body more strongly;
- Enhances blood flow and lowers blood sugar;
- Builds muscle strength. As a result the legs get toned;
- Facilitates weight loss. Exercise burns calories;
- Develops endurance and energy;
- Improves sleep;
- Boosts immune system.
- Enhances mental health conditions;
- Boosts creativity;
- Claims to postpone mental disease, like Alzheimer’s;
- Socializing if you walk with others.
I’ll be forever confused why every government put all its COVID-eggs on a vaccine and never said anything about lifestyle. Although I can come up with at least two reasons: prevention is not sexy and it brings in less money.
With prevention, you never know whether it really helped. Prescribing medicines gives a visible result. Even if the result is bad.
When my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I had already read a tremendous amount of information. My mother denied his illness for a long time and dragged him everywhere. They walked 2 to 3 hours a day.
I knew from the literature that exercise is beneficial for patients with Alzheimer’s. So when caring for my father became too difficult for my mother, I went for a weekly walk with him at a special association.
It is still argued that there is not enough scientific research to support that exercise is good for mental illness. But I am very sure that my mother’s drive to walk so much every day has been my father’s preservation for a long time.
As I suspect in retrospect that those subsequent weekly walks I did with my father were not sufficient enough.
Several ways of walking
If you have ever spent an afternoon shopping, you know that sauntering around is more tiring than plain walking. To reap the benefits of walking, putting in some effort is recommended.
Start at a normal speed, for most people my age that will be 4 to 5 km/hr. Set a goal of walking for half an hour daily. Can’t you do that? From my own experience, I promise you will get to that by following a plan. Start with what you can achieve, even if it is just one minute, and add a little bit of time each day.
Walk at a pace where you can still talk but not sing. A little more than your normal pace is enough. So that you feel that you make an effort without panting.
Tom’s average speed is higher than mine. To compensate and so that we both work out enough, I walk with Nordic poles and Tom without. Aside from the silly comments from fellow hikers (hey, you forgot your poles), it works perfectly for us.
A favorite saying is “Use it or lose it”. Hence, it is necessary to practice. Another statement is “Stagnation means decline”. In other words, if you always do the same thing, you will not improve.
You can make walking more strenuous by:
- Walking further;
- Heavier, by holding weights in your hands;
- More strenuous, by walking up a slope;
- Alternating, in a pyramid training or interval training.
In the Netherlands we know the International Four Days Marches of Nijmegen. People sign up to walk 30, 40 or 50 kilometers a day and there are always those who have never walked that much but start training a few months in advance.
The worst thing they can do is walk their desired distance as often as possible. As a result, they are already injured before the march or have to stop during those days. Building strength and stamina sensibly mean alternating quiet days with strenuous days.
Influence of nature on the human body
Research is increasingly showing that our contact with nature is important for our well-being. We spend too much time between concrete buildings or packed in metal driving boxes.
Try to walk in a natural environment as much as possible. Not everyone lives on the outskirts of a small town like us, but most cities have parks. And if a park is too far away, a tree-lined street will do as well.
Recommended to do
- Invest in good shoes;
- Warm up by starting slowly and cool down by ending slowly;
- Stretch your muscles;
- Wear clothes with reflective stripes, particularly if you walk in the dark;
- Journal about your walks so you can experience your progress in time;
- Take care of variation in order not to get bored;
- Join a group or walk with a friend.
About 4 years ago a friend was raving about walking 10.000 steps a day and inspired me to do the same. After 2 months of faithfully walking 10.000 steps every day, my shin started to hurt. Not right away, but after about ⅔ of my walk. And instead of lowering my goal I kept on going, following my upbringing of being a fierce person.
My physiotherapist scolded me for my shoes, they were completely wrong. Especially if you walk a lot, it is necessary to have shoes that support your feet well and correct them where necessary.
My feet were measured at a specialized sports shoe store and my walking was watched on a video. The owners of the business were athletes as well as physiotherapists, so they were able to give the perfect advice for my shoes.
Traps to avoid
- Don’t think too lightly about a check up at the doctor’s;
- Plan your goals with care in order not to overdo it;
- Avoid blisters;
- Take precautions against insects and for the different types of weather, like sun hats or rain clothes;
- Drink enough water, either before or after your walk, or during if you walk far;
- Be careful of traffic.
Graded activity after being injured
Years ago when I was walking with my mom and paying more attention to her than to myself, I stepped on a loose tile with a hidden hole and twisted my ankle.
I thought it would pass and waited 2 weeks before going to the physiotherapist. Of course he sputtered at me (again!), because now I had also put the wrong pressure on the knee of my other leg.
He gave me a schedule, which I sometimes reuse. My ankle and knee will remain my weak spots, I’m afraid. By starting over with this graded activity schedule after an injury, recovery will be faster and better.
Basic training for one week
This schedule can be used for any sport, not just walking. It could be hiking, biking, nordic walking, swimming, anything you can do either at an easy pace or very intense. You need a stopwatch, which most smartphones have, I guess.
Do your exercise for as long as you can practice it pain-free. Clock the time and make a note on a piece of paper (or download the pdf – no login required).
Building your strength in the next five weeks
When you have practiced for 7 days, calculate the average of them (x). Put 80% of that average time (y) on the paper at the start of the second week.
At the end of the next 5 weeks you put (z). Z is 2,5 times Y. Every crossing of the line YZ indicates the time you have to practice on that day. The intention is to slowly build up your strength.
Don’t do more than the indicated time. And whenever it gets painful, stop, go back to the basic training to collect new data of pain free exercising and start over.
If you’re doing well after the 5 weeks you can either extend the line or you can try how much further you can go without pain and see if you are satisfied with that level of exercise.
The timing depends on your possibility
It doesn’t matter whether the 5 and 10 on the example are minutes or seconds. Or whether it’s not 5 and 10, but 15 and 30. It’s important to exercise and to do that the right way. Better to walk really, really slowly without hobbling, than overdoing it and growing another injury because you compensate your movements in the wrong way.
Measuring and motivating yourself
I have mentioned journaling, to measure your progress, and looking for walking buddies, to motivate yourself. There are many smartphone apps that measure your performance and support your motivation. I have an iPhone, so I don’t know anything about the Android apps, but I am sure they will be similar. For instance:
- Step counter or pedometer;
- Heart rate monitor;
- Condition app.
Many apps motivate you with the help of ‘gamification’. They give assignments and offer you a medal as a reward. Tom thinks that is nonsense, but I love it. I get motivated by it.
Related: Digital health
Walking for health benefits
Walking is an important exercise for promoting your health. Research shows that some diseases can be prevented or delayed. It’s a great way to relax or socialize with friends. Walking has many advantages and just a few disadvantages.
Do you often walk? Tell me in the comment box below.