The human body was designed to walk. All of the joints in your body, including your sacroiliac joints and the intricate joints of the vertebral column, work best when they are regularly taken through their normal ranges of motion during exercise and physical activity, including consistent walking.
People are often surprised to learn that walking is one of the best exercises for strengthening the muscles of the upper back. Strong back muscles create stability in the spinal column and help keep the upper and lower vertebrae in proper alignment.
Since your body was specifically designed to stride along in an upright position, walking is the most natural exercise there is. Stiffening of the joints is often a result of insufficient movement, sometimes called the “use it or lose it” principle.
A regular program of distance walking has also been proven to strengthen the cardiovascular system by lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Reduced stress, increased muscle strength, improved digestion, and strengthened bones are just a few of the positive effects of consistently including walking in your daily lifestyle.
The beauty of walking is that all you really need is a proper pair of shoes. You can walk practically anywhere, at any time, and it can fit into most schedules. Since walking is a low impact, aerobic exercise, the risk of injury is minimal. Walking also gives all of the muscles of the lower body, including the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, and glutes, a good workout. By power walking, using light hand weights, you will involve more muscle groups, which increases resistance and muscle building potential.
How far and how fast should you walk? It depends on your goals, overall health, and physical strength. Start out slowly, taking the time to listen to your body’s feedback. Gradually increase the distance that you feel comfortable walking briskly. The faster you walk, the more positive benefits you will gain. If you are walking for overall health reasons, a general guideline is at least thirty minutes, three to five times a week.
For people who are extremely overweight or new to exercise, walking is an ideal choice. If your specific goal is to lose weight, gradually increase your speed and work your way up to forty five to sixty minutes, five or six days a week. If you are walking mainly for cardiovascular benefits, stride briskly enough to breathe hard, yet be able to hold a conversation for at least thirty to forty five minutes.
Be sure not to hyperextend, or lock your knees, as you walk. Practice swinging your arms from the shoulders and elbows, which increases cardiovascular benefits and flexibility, and gives your upper body more of a workout.
If you are feeling a little lethargic and out of shape, put one foot in front of the other, get outside, and start walking. Not only will you feel much better, but you may also find that there is an exciting world out there, just waiting to be discovered.