Back to Fitness: The Power of Walking

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By John Andersen

We hear a lot from people, “I’m just not made to be a runner.” Often this comes quite honestly, where the individuals have tried to take on running as part of their fitness routine and has just as many times met frustration, injury, and failure. Perhaps they have even been told by a doctor that their bodies are just not designed for running.

Even though I am a hopeless optimist who feels like anyone can do anything if they keep at it, even I will concede that there are some people’s bodies that just will not seem to cooperate with the message of “we were made to run.”

However, we’re all made to walk!

If I may…whatever your belief system is, human beings were definitely designed for long-distance walking. Let’s go back 2000 years: Definitely no cars. Definitely no bikes. Most likely very limited access to horses, only in some small cultures. So, we walked. All. Day. Long.

Life was TOUGH back then! No grocery store. Probably the most tenuous factor between you and survival was consistent access to food. We had to hunt, gather, or grow it. Talk about locally sourced!

It is fair to say that our very real ancestors going back hundreds and hundreds of years did a whole heck of a lot of walking. Taking that into an analysis of our human form and function, our bodies are unquestionably designed to be on our feet all day long with the ability to move all day long. Strong, tireless postural muscles to keep us upright and balanced on our two legs. Incredibly efficient muscle metabolism that enabled us to walk for miles and miles on very little food. Powerful legs that can easily support three times our own body weight. And complex feet that sense the ground, as well as provide shock absorption and incredible stability to the huge body standing on top of them. If you get even further into the study of our tendons, joints, muscles, and nerves, the human body is a very, very impressive machine.

And today, it’s still tough! Okay, our lives are pretty soft now. We do have cars. We do have grocery stores. We have really comfortable chairs. Somehow we can be incredibly busy and productive people, without standing or walking hardly at all during the course of a day. But we all still do walk, every day. Most of us don’t really think about it much, not any more than how we get from our bed to the coffee pot, from our cars to the office, from one aisle in the store to the next.

Reminder: walking remains one of the best exercise tools out there. When you start adding some distance and time into your walking, something quite awakening and primal occurs, something very human.

And the beauty: Almost everyone can go out and do it.

Walking has much less impact than running. The ground reaction forces when walking are about 1.1 times your body weight, but with running they are anywhere from 2.5 to 3 times your body weight. If you are getting back to fitness, or trying to overcome an injury, get out there and MOVE, but with less impact. Walk! When you walk, you are strengthening all of the muscles, bones, tendons, and ligaments and making them more resilient for when you are ready to take on other, more intense, activities.

When we exercise at lower intensities, our bodies use primarily fat as an energy source. So when you walk, you are mostly fat-burning. Yeah! However, the trick here is that you need to exercise for a longer period of time to take full advantage of this. Think one hour. Give yourself an hour, 4-5 times a week. If you need to get back to shape, saying you’re too busy is simply an excuse. Almost anyone can carve out 4-5 hours a week for exercise if you are committed. Make it happen!

For some, long walks may sound boring at first, but give it a few weeks, and you will find that it becomes way more therapeutic than it could ever be boring. If you need distraction, bring music or an audiobook, or better yet, a friend. But you’ll be surprised just how busy your mind becomes if you don’t bring any distractions. It becomes a perfect blend of exercise and meditation.

Walk in the woods. We call this hiking. Fortunately, here in Crozet we are surrounded by amazing trails both in our neighborhoods (around Old Trail, behind Crozet Park…), as well as in our local mountains (Mint Springs Valley Park, Shenandoah National Park, Byrom Forest Preserve). This allows for some great home-to-trail-and-back walks that are both long and interesting.

If you’re looking for fitness, walk with purpose. Call it power hiking. Use those legs, swing those arms. You don’t have to look like a speed walker, just use those powerful legs and get that heart rate up and you will not want for exercise in this hilly area.

One paradigm that is very wrong with common fitness advice is that if we just “work out” several times a week, we will get “fit.” What would our 2000-year-ago selves think about our strange behavior of sitting around all day, but then getting up to exercise for just 30 minutes, three times a week? Walking regularly is a great way to bridge this gap between “exercising” and real-life fitness, because we can all do it, do it a lot, with a fairly low risk for injury.

Get outside, soak in the beauty that we live in, and walk!

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