The Joy of Walking


Article written by Robert Knight NZSP, and courtesy of Kinetics – physical rehabilitation specialists.
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1. Why walk?

Walking is one of the most primal movements known to man and our bodies have developed so that walking and movement are not only beneficial to our health but essential. Walking requires the integrated use of almost all our muscles, not only the ones you see but also the deeper internal ones we don't think of as needing exercise, for example, the colon. When people are sedentary, they lose the natural visceral mobilisation provided by functional exercise.

Walking stimulates your metabolism to not only burn calories but to also absorb nutrients and water. The rhythmical contractions of muscles act as a "pump", circulating blood and oxygen through the body, as well as lymphatic fluids, an important component of the immune system. Walking is also a weight bearing activity, unlike swimming, cycling or rowing, which is essential for the development and maintenance of bone and important for preventing conditions such as osteoporosis.

Quite simply, we were designed to walk and it is an essential part of our physiology.

2. But don't I need to run to be fit?

If you want to do a marathon or compete in track and field of course you have to run. But most people should be thinking in terms of health rather than fitness. The healthiest people in the world are those that have active lives, they blend movement into their daily routine. Indeed, evidence is showing that "cramming" exercise into a 30 minute gym session or joint-jarring run on the roads actually discourages people from exercising for the rest of the day.

Health and fitness are not synonymous; the modern exercise philosophy of an intense burst of activity to try and counteract a sedentary lifestyle is simply not effective or even necessarily advisable.

3. Why 10 000 steps?

Most people walk between 3000- 5000 steps per day. The U.S. Surgeon General recommends 30 minutes walking per day for optimal health. This is roughly equivalent to 10 000 steps. By increasing your daily, accumulated activity to 10 000 steps, and this is easily measurable with a simple pedometer, you have achieved your baseline activity level, a concept the Japanese have embraced for over 30 years; indeed the Japanese name for the pedometer is "manpo-kei" which translates as "10 000" steps.

4. Why use a pedometer?

A pedometer is a cheap, simple, accurate and effective tool to objectively monitor activity. In effect it acts as your conscience! Most people overestimate their activity levels- they equate being "busy" with being "active"- and are often quite shocked once the pedometer measures their actual level of daily activity. Ever heard a nurse talk about the "miles" they cover each night on their rounds? The reality is often quite different when you measure it objectively.

5. What is "incidental" exercise?

These days when we think of fitness we tend to compartmentalise it from the rest of our lives, but there is another way; by blending activity into our daily routine we "accumulate" the beneficial effects of regular exercise. More and more studies are concluding that the healthiest, longest-lived people do not follow formal exercise routines, they simply have more "incidental" exercise in their lives; they walk more, garden more and, in the case of children, play more. And that's real play, not computer games!

6. "But 10 000 steps sounds an awful lot! And I don't think I have time."

Most people already cover 3000- 5000 steps in their day. By changing simple habits and mindsets it becomes very easy to increase this to 10 000, and the beauty of this is that it can be done as part of normal daily routine and doesn't require the hassle of dedicating specific time to the gym.

7. How can I increase activity in my daily life?

Easy! Just don't always look for the easiest way to do things, for example, take the stairs instead of the lift, park further away from the shops and walk the extra distance, use the toilets on the next floor up at work etc. Today's labour saving devices, even little things such as T.V. remote controls or garage door openers, render us virtually immobile for long periods and it is this loss of the normal movement in our daily lives that is largely responsible for today's epidemic of chronic health problems.

8. So I should give up the gym?

Not necessarily. If you enjoy going to the gym, obviously keep going, there are huge benefits to strength training especially as we get older. What the goal of 10 000 steps using a pedometer does is allow you to "accumulate" exercise on days when you can't get out due to time restraints, responsibilities etc. It is a baseline target for health and a constant reminder to keep our bodies moving.

9. Will children benefit from using a pedometer?

Absolutely!! Research is showing that the difference between children of a healthy weight and those overweight lies more in their day to day activity than in the amount of formal exercise such as in sports. Healthy children simply move a lot more whether it be walking to school, climbing trees or just playing. With computers, play-stations and television now such an integral part of life, a pedometer very quickly highlights activity levels.

10. So should I just go and walk for half an hour?

You can if you want to, of course, the more exercise we get the better. But evidence is showing that people who do a set period of exercise tend to do little else for the rest of the day. Using a pedometer changes that mindset and it becomes a challenge to accumulate as many steps as possible during your normal routine which is a healthier way for your body.