Walking is a man’s best medicine.
I’ve always been a walker; it’s in my genes. Yours too. The commonly cited benefits of walking include cardiovascular fitness, weight management, diabetes prevention and enhanced cognitive function.
In his video “23 and 1/2 hours: What is the single best thing we can do for our health?”, Doctor-Professor Mike Evans highlights current research and provides a simple answer – walk!
I prescribe walking to my clients too. It’s the best exercise, although I think we need to aim for closer to one hour a day for health, and the perfect way to integrate the corrections we initiate during treatment. Here’s my take on why we should all walk.
Our bodies are designed to walk. Unlike many other animals, we are most efficient when we walk. We land heel first, then roll through and off the ball of our foot and toes. When we run we typically land on the ball of our foot and use much more energy. Other animals are better adapted to running. Dogs and cats walk and run on the balls of their feet while horses run on their toes.
Walking is symmetrical. Many of our activities, both work and recreational, tend to be one-sided. Symmetrical activity helps keep our bodies aligned and balanced, reducing wear and tear due to uneven tensions and forces.
Our natural gait is a cross-pattern movement with reciprocal arm swing (opposite arm and leg move back and forward together). Cross-pattern movement reduces twist of our spines. It’s also believed to balance our autonomic nervous systems and enhance brain function by developing the neurological pathways between the right and left halves of our brain. Have you noticed this effect? Not long into a walk, you start to feel more relaxed, life is in perspective, and suddenly you’re full of brilliant ideas.
Then there’s vanity; symmetry makes us more attractive. The theory is that symmetry is indicative of underlying genetic health.
Whole Body Movement
Walking is a full body activity. It uses more muscles than other activities resulting in more flow of blood and other fluids throughout our entire body. The result? Lower blood pressure, better immune function, increased vitality and healthy tissue from our brains to our toes.
Walking is fully weight-bearing. It creates compressive forces through our bones to help maintain bone density. It also builds the appropriate amount of muscle mass for our body, in all the right places – even our abs and back of our arms! This gives us the correct strength-to-weight ratio to perform our daily tasks with ease, reduce our risk of falling and keep us self-sufficient. Plus muscle increases our metabolism for weight management.
Walking is essential for health. It restores homeostasis, the physiological state where self-healing happens. However, to get all the benefits of walking without creating damage we need to be doing it in correct alignment. Check out Walking or Bouncing? by Katy Bowman to learn about natural reflex driven gait. As a first step try this calf stretch to help activate your posterior push-off.
If you want to see me less often, get outside for a walk. In correct alignment, of course.
Bowman, K. (2011). Whole-Body Alignment Program. Ventura (CA): Restorative Exercise Inc.
Brunel University (2008, August 19). Why Symmetry Predicts Bodily Attractiveness. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 22, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2008/08/080818185213.htm
Cunningham, C. B., Schilling, N., Anders, C. and Carrier, D. R. (2010). The influence of foot posture on the cost of transport in humans. J. Exp. Biol. 213, 790-797.
Dennison, P. E. & Dennison, G. E. (1989). Brain Gym: teacher’s edition, revised. Ventura, CA: Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc.
Hannaford, C. (2005). Smart moves: why learning is not all in your head. 2nd ed., Salt Lake City, Utah: Great River Books.
University of Utah (2010, February 12). Human gait adapted for efficient walking at the cost of efficient running. ScienceDaily. Retrieved March 22, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2010/02/100212092304.htm
Wade, T.J. (2010). The relationships between symmetry and attractiveness and mating relevant decisions and behavior: A Review. Symmetry 2010, 2, 1081-1098.