So Simple, So Powerful: The Benefits of Walking

This may come as a shock, but not all of my patients love to exercise. I’d go so far as to say that getting some of my patients to exercise reminds me of trying to get my son to eat broccoli when he was little.

In those cases, I have a compromise position that I count as a win: walking.

(Not me walking away from the patient, mind you, but getting my patient to walk regularly.)

Walking is a great way to improve your overall health, and you can do it just about anywhere, any time. Anyone can do it, it doesn’t cost a thing, and it’s pretty low-impact. Even if exercise is totally repulsive to you, you still have to walk sometimes, so may as well make it beneficial.

I’m on my feet most of the day at the office, and maybe you are, too, but too many people sit most of the day at work. If you find you sit more than 45 out of every 60 minutes, find a way to get up and walk around every hour. Take a walking lunch. Roll up yourselves, go outside and gather up some Vitamin D from the sun while you stroll around the building, sandwich in hand. It takes a little creativity, but it’s worth it.

I recommend you take a 30- to 40-minute walk in the evening, with bonus points if you can get out in fresh air. If you can only do five minutes before you’re out of breath, then walk for five minutes. My prescription for you is to walk every night after work, and increase it by one minute each night until you are up to 30 minutes at a time.

Consider just a few of the benefits of walking to different parts of your body.

Body Benefits

Core muscles: walking with good posture (which I’ll describe below) can strengthen and tone the core muscle groups around your abdomen. The core is your center of balance and posture and basically includes all the interconnected muscle groups from your armpits to your buttocks. A well-balanced core gives strength and freedom to each muscle group. An imbalance in tension in any group puts a strain on the groups around it, causing pain and stiffness. Often, patients who come to me with lower back pain are actually suffering from over-tightened quadriceps muscles (on the front of the thigh) or hamstrings (on the back of the thigh). That’s why I recommend a little light stretching before a walk, or if you know you’re going to be on your feet a lot at work.

Heart and lungs: Good walking technique should cause your heart to pump a little faster and breathe a little harder, but you should be able to carry on a normal conversation while you walk. If you begin to feel light-headed, slow down or sit down for a moment. Getting outside in fresh air is preferable, whenever possible.

Bones: Regular walking strengthens your bone structures and reduces loss of bone density. It can also help prevent osteoporosis.

Circulation: Walking is excellent for good circulation, pumping nutrients into soft tissues and removing toxins. The rhythmic bouncing movement of walking can also help to drain your lymphatic system (your body’s internal toxic drainage system). Drinking lots of water keeps your muscle tissues soft and pliable, and flushes toxins to the kidneys and out.

Weight: walking is an excellent way to maintain a healthy weight, especially in your later years as your metabolism slows.

Walking Posture

To maximize the benefits of walking, I recommend walking with your spine elongated slightly, your shoulders square (not hunched forward), your tummy pulled in slightly, your head up and your eyes forward. The walking should all be in your hips, with natural strides. Some people try to take too long of a stride, thinking that will maximize the aerobic impact, but it tends to create more problems than it solves by putting undue pressure on the lower back and glutes. Your arms should swing freely at your sides.

Walking Shoes

Your feet were designed to pivot slightly inward and outward as you step, to absorb the shock of each step (it’s why your knees and ankles come equipped with cartilage as well). Some people’s feet tend to roll inward, putting pressure on the arch of the foot (we often call it “flat feet”). People with this condition tend to have excess rotation in their legs and knees, and the pelvis tilts to compensate, which over-tightens the lower back muscles. Other people have a condition where their feet naturally roll outward, which bypasses the shock absorbers in the arch of your foot, radiating the shock of each step up your legs and into your spine. Over time, this can cause injuries and intense pain. I will sometimes prescribe an orthotic insert to help balance the pressures on the feet one way or the other, but you can often find athletic shoes that do a good job of balancing the pressures.

(NOTE: If you’ve never walked or run barefoot, you should try it. There are some pretty interesting benefits to walking like our early ancestors walked. I believe in getting back to the fundamentals in how we care for our bodies. I also understand that the ground in Southwest Florida is not always conducive to walking barefoot, so I want to make sure people have good information about shoes.)

The part of the shoe behind the heel should fit snugly, but not tightly. This will help prevent your feet from over-rotating inwardly or outwardly.

The insole and midsole should be comfortable and give adequate support under the arch and ball of your foot. It’s a fine line between cushioning and over-cushioning. I recommend that you talk to a professional shoe salesman when selecting a walking shoe. Cross-trainers are not all created equal.

Around the toes, you should have adequate room for your toes to wiggle freely, but not too much or your foot could twist inside. I recommend you leave about half an inch of space from the end of the toes to the end of the shoe.

I tend to be a little frugal when it comes to buying clothes, but one area I will not skimp is shoes, especially for my kids. Children’s feet, ankles, and spines are developing rapidly, and poorly-designed shoes during their growing years can set them up for a lifetime of back trouble. Spend the extra money for good quality shoes, and make sure they fit properly.

If this article was helpful, take 8 seconds to share it on social media. People sometimes think they are too busy to read up on ways to improve their health, but they will stop and read something they see shared on Facebook. Together, we can impact a lot of people with simple ways to “move right, eat right, think right, and live right.” Thanks for being a part of getting the message out.

“At the end of your feelings is NOTHING. At the end of your principles is a PROMISE.”  — Eric Thomas

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