Published on July 12, 2016
I often get asked by my patients, “What’s the best form of exercise?” There is a misconception in thinking that there is a magic form of exercise or exercise machine that can cure all their aches and pains without putting in much effort. There really is no better or simpler form of exercise than what we were given at birth…..our legs! Walking is the easiest, cheapest and best exercise that anyone can do anywhere and at any time. We need to be able to walk for the rest of our lives so why not practice what we need to be able to do in order to maintain our quality of life. You don’t need any special equipment to walk or gym membership. It is easy to integrate it into your life. Even in 21st century, where everything has become about finding ways not to move, simply start by parking further from the office door, go for a walk at lunchtime, wake up early to start your day off right, walk as a form of transportation, or take the stairs instead of the elevator, etc.
When we walk, we use the opposite arm and opposite leg which actually grooves the motor pattern for our spine to maintain its optimal health. Walking nourishes our joints. When patients come into my office in pain, it is my goal to get them out of pain as quickly as possible. Many patients suffer in pain as a result of not moving enough throughout the day which causes their muscles and joints to become stiff, tight and painful. Creating a standing workstation and using our legs will prevent back pain. Our bodies developed and were designed to stand upright. Sitting causes compression and actually decreases our longevity.
Walking trains our bodies, creating natural movement patterns that are inherit to humans. We were designed to walk; however the North American culture has become lazy, obese, and built a new world in which we do not have to move or walk much. The modern era seems to want to try accomplish us walking as little as possible. We are constantly looking for the shortest possible route and app of for our phones to not have to move from our chair.
Research demonstrates that the minimum amount of exercise we need is approximately 30 minutes of walking per day. How can we not challenge ourselves to accomplish this each and every day at the bare minimum?
Walking does the following without ever knowing it:
• Increases circulation to promote blood flow to our muscles, joints, and bones to allow us to feed our body.
• Burns calories to aid in maintaining a healthy body weight or weight loss as every pound of extra fat causes an approximate increase of five pounds of pressure to the joints of the body.
• Activates our gluteal and low back erector muscles which are the primary stabilizers of our spine and pelvis – everything starts from the pelvis as the foundation for human movement. Walking backwards will even accomplish this more. Try it at the park.
• Increases synovial fluid which is the lubricant of the body like oil is to an engine of a car.
• Fast paced walking causes a greater activation of postural muscles which are responsible for our upright posture and help to maintain posture.
• Patients with degenerative changes, specifically spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal, can benefit greatly from uphill walking as the spine bends forward to open up and also creates more muscle activation of the posterior chain or backside.
• Builds the density of our bones which become frail and weak in the elderly and helps to prevent osteopenia and osteoporosis.
• Helps maintain balance and stability of the body which also deteriorate as we age and is the number one reason for falling in the elderly.
• Builds our aerobic cardiovascular system for maintaining a healthy heart by helping to build new blood pathways which in turn decrease how hard our heart has to work each and every minute.
• Prevents and decreases overall pain because of all the reasons listed above and releases natural endorphins which make us feel great – walking is the best drug we have that has no negative side effects!
As one can see, walking is the simplest and best forms of human movement that we often neglect in today’s world. Compared to Europeans, we walk less because of the way we have designed our landscape and have become slaves to technology. The new niche is to walk approximately 10,000 steps a day but I often simply just recommend to accumulate 30 minutes or more to prevent over complicating things for my patients. As well, obsession with devices like the fitbit prevent us from actually just enjoying nature as we walk and looking around at our surroundings. Ironically, these devices then force us to sit more at our computer over analyzing our data. Walking is psychologically easy to do as we all know how to do it. It is non-threatening to the body and we can easily make it easier and harder. For example, one can choose to walk on flat ground or go on a trail to challenge their balance, you can walk uphill or flights of stairs to really challenge your cardio, grab some light hand weights to increase the intensity and or strap on a knapsack with weight in it. As you can see the options are endless to challenge your body by walking whether it for rehabilitation purposes or just to get into shape.
Get outside and breathe. Walking is also a simple form of meditation as you can reflect upon your day and focus on your breathing technique because we do not have to think to walk. Inhale through your nose, taking a big deep breath in filling up your abdomen and feeling it expand which is deep belly breathing instead of shallow chest breaths. Walking combined with this simple breathing meditation technique will have you in an altered state forgetting about all your aches and pains while rehabilitating them at the same time getting you out of pain as quickly as possible.
We were built to walk from birth and that is why we begin to crawl and eventually turn upright as we build the right muscular capacity to be bipedal like no other animal. When we go to the zoo with our children, we are upset if we see the animals simply lying there and not interacting or moving. Is it not the same with humans? We are just animals that need to move and in turn will feel better and live a healthier, happier and fulfilled life. Go out there and walk – you can’t fail!