This Week’s Top Health and Wellbeing Tip: Walking

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They say you shouldn’t run before you can walk. I say, unless you want to end up with some unpleasant injuries to add to your collection, you shouldn’t run at all. Why bother, when walking’s so much more pleasant?

The older we get, the more prone our bodies are to stresses and strains. That’s because a lifetime of little niggles – often caused by inevitably poor posture when sitting in front of a computer, or spending an evening watching TV – causes a catalogue of small misalignments. Your bones are moved slightly out of place by errant muscles. A limited motion in one joint has knock on effects on the others.

When you run, particularly if you run without prior experience, you are extremely likely to exacerbate a pre-existing condition in a joint or in a muscle. The net result is usually a prolonged period of discomfort during which you can’t do any exercise at all.

When you walk, you’re much less likely to trigger an injury. You get the benefits of fresh air and different scenery. And you can even talk to people while you’re doing it – a lot more dignified than charging around the local park wheezing like a grampus!

Walking is essentially a low-impact exercise. It’s second only to swimming in its absence of shocks. Not even cycling matches it. Cycling, which requires that your feet and ankles describe an elliptical motion dictated by the positioning of the pedals, has no room for manoeuvre if you’ve got any of the pre-existing niggles we’ve already spoken about.

But walking, you might think, won’t get me fit. I mean, I walk already, going to the shops or doing the gardening…

It’s true, you do: but you probably don’t walk very far. That’s the key here – to keep moving at a steady pace for as long as possible. Ultimately, your guiding rule is this: sitting down leads to health problems. The more you get up and wander around, the healthier you are.

This is true of all motion. Disturbingly for exercise freaks who believe that a single gym session in the morning, or a quick run before work, is enough to fight the effects of the sedentary modern lifestyle, simply moving around at a normal pace throughout the day can keep you fitter and burn more fat than running for 20 minutes. Take frequent breaks. Get up and pace when you’re on the phone. Anything that gets you out of the chair gets you closer to a much better level of fitness.

Walking to exercise is different, of course. If you set out on “a walk”, rather than just trying to minimise the time you spend sitting in a chair, there’s a different kind of goal in mind. This is where walking becomes a hobby or even a sport – something you do in your spare time and even something that you train towards.

Here’s the thing about walking, though – sport or otherwise. You really can start with just a single step. Every day you walk a little more, or a little bit further. Until one day, you find yourself entering a walking half marathon…