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The Health Benefits of Walking

Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Over the past few weeks, we've looked quite a bit at both stretching and sweating, but what if there was some way to combine both of these things in one activity?

Hereʼs a little secret - such an activity exists and youʼve been doing it far longer than you imagine.

What is this wondrous thing? Walking. 

Man walking

Photo Credit: myahya via Compfight cc (Image cropped) 

Thatʼs right. Walking. For the vast majority of people, itʼs something they consider to be such a basic action they rarely think about the fact they are doing it, or failing to do it. Itʼs one of those things that most people would never consider exercise, let alone one of those most beneficial. Itʼs also one of the those things most people do far worse than the generations that came before us. 

Todayʼs humanity lives much differently than we did in the past, but these changes are relatively recent - they can be counted in generations instead of centuries.

Now most people spend most of their time in positions where there legs are hardly in active use for either standing or movement. People tend to travel in distances measured by rooms and parking lots compared to the plains and acres of days past.

What this means for us is that our lifestyles are at odds with the way our bodies have been shaped. 

Walk it off

There is an old saying in sports that holds true today. “Walk it off.” Of course, in sports, that really only applies to cramped muscles, but for most of us, this advice applies to a whole host of things.

Walking for 30-40 minutes a day, uninterrupted, offers a whole host of health benefits to the whole body, including loosening tense muscles and allowing the body to detox through perspiration. Other benefits include improved cardiovascular, respiratory, circulatory, and digestive health as well as improving mental health, coordination, and balance. 

If itʼs so easy and so beneficial, why do so many people avoid it? There are many reasons both personal and societal.

For many people the demands of work and family require using a car and when one has a car, one isnʼt likely to make an effort to park as far away as possible to be able to get the most walking in that they can. When you combine that with spending a good portion of the day in the seated position, the body starts to become accustomed to not walking, so much so that walking becomes uncomfortable, further discouraging people from doing it. 

The best way to walk

So what is the best way to walk? There are three simple things to keep in mind: posture, breathing, and gait.

Posture has to do primarily with core engagement and alignment in this situation. As much as possible, if you were to picture yourself from the side, there should be a straight line from your ears straight down through the shoulders and hips. By keeping your head up and shoulders back, you reduce the amount of strain on the hamstrings and calves as well as keeping the chest open so oxygen is readily available. 

Speaking of breathing, while getting a little winded is OK, the most effective pace you can set is one where you are able to walk and carry on a conversation at the same time without getting winded. If you arenʼt able to breathe effectively, then the body will switch from aerobic mode, which is where we get the most benefit in terms of health, to anaerobic mode, which is great for building muscle, but less beneficial for the heart, lungs, and other systems.

Finally, the gait should be loose and comfortable, with even strides and good contact with the ground. 

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill

Andrew Hill has been practicing acupuncture and massage therapy as a private practitioner since 2009. Before that, he was involved in technology, theater, and a whole slew of other professions, learning first hand a wide variety of on-the-job injuries. Visit him online at cavemanmedicine.net.


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