Monday, August 24, 2009
Walking is something we take for granted, unless we are a paraplegic, and yet many of us only walk when we need to. We often choose an alternative means of getting from A to B. If we want to go to the local shop, we slide into the car or use the moped. By habit we take the lazier option, rather than the healthier and greener alternative. In terms of benefiting our health, there is no better or cheaper way of achieving and maintaining physical fitness than by walking. Running can cause injury to joints and tendons, as well as exacerbating existing injuries. Swimming usually costs money, unless it is done in the sea, a river or a lake, and travelling to where you want to swim takes time. Workouts at Sports Centres or Gymnasiums need preplanning, whereas walking can be spontaneous, simply by stepping outside wherever you happen to be. Walking is an activity you can do alone or in company, and it can be taken to different levels. If you want to walk with others, you can join a local ramblers’ group, or you may like to take an organized holiday by a tour operator specializing in trekking or walking holidays. Alternatively, you could do your own thing by exploring the well-defined trails of the National Trust, or try the tracks of the Lake District. The more intrepid walkers could even venture to the ancient ruins of the Incas at Machu Picchu, high in the Andes of Peru!
The health benefits of regular exercise by walking are far-reaching, even if you only walk for 10 to 20 minutes perhaps twice a day, but at a fairly brisk pace, say 4 mph. That may require a gentle introduction, especially if you are not fit. Just start with an easy quarter-of-an-hour amble. From then on progressively increase the length of your daily walks over the next week or so. Maybe by the end of the third or fourth week you could achieve a minimum of 2 ½ to 3 miles a day. After two months, gradually increase the speed of your walking to about 4 mph, but it is best not to make strict rules otherwise walking could become a chore. Just enjoy what you are doing and walk at your own pace. Different locations can make the experience more pleasurable. If you have health problems, perhaps associated with being overweight, or you have diabetes or high blood pressure etc., it may be advisable to consult your GP before starting a walking/keep fit programme.
I am not a clinician or medical practitioner, but I’ve read that the benefits of regular walking may include improved cardiovascular health, the reduction of back pain and better mobility for arthritis sufferers, plus it helps those who have osteoporosis and those with high levels of cholesterol. Walking is a positive means of reducing weight and it also helps reduce high blood pressure, and perhaps lessens the chances of heart attacks and strokes. Even varicose vein sufferers may benefit from the exercise. Walking is a means towards achieving good health which is a factor leading to longer life. Even a fit elderly person can continue walking, whereas running or active sport for the elderly is generally out of the question. Surveys in the US show that the highest percentage of regular walkers (39.4%) is comprised of men over 64, and I guess it is similar here in the UK. Walking can also be beneficial for a person’s mental health, being especially effective for the release of tensions and stress. A solo walker is left free to unwind, and the physical action of walking relaxes the mind. I know that when I return after a brisk walk, I feel more relaxed than when I set out. While walking, my mind is free to roam any topic, and if I feel like praying, I can do so without distraction.
Regular walking is a practice I can highly recommend to any able-bodied person, because of the health-giving benefits to both body and mind. I also believe there are benefits for the soul - if one walks in the right company! (Genesis 5:21-24)