People often ask me, "If I can do just one movement thing to improve my overall health, what would it be?" And although there are a million great possible answers (manage stress better, meditate, self-massage, move more, sleep more, eat plants), I usually answer that you, me, and everyone we know should walk more (stats on that here). Last year, I decided to walk 2015 miles ( I really got to 2038) and see how it affected my health, and honestly, it was great. It got me out in nature more often, my back pain decreased, my hip strength increased, my foot and calf mobility increased, and I listened to SO many podcasts and audiobooks. I learned a ton and I'm still learning lots. In the words of Levar Burton and Reading Rainbow, don't just take my word for it:
1) Walking is a foundational human movement, yet our modern society has essentially made it easy to skip walking as frequently as possible. You can park a car close to the market/post office/pharmacy, walk 10 feet from your car into the store, and back out. Many communities don't have as many public transportation options, so people rely heavily on their cars for transportation rather than walking to do daily tasks, such as going to the post office, market, etc.
2) Walking doesn't demand fancy equipment, high tech shoes, expensive workout clothing, or other gear (fitbit or other tracker not needed!). Although walking in one's own neighborhood may not always be possible depending on the time of day, weather, safety, etc., it is something that is versatile and that can be (hypothetically) done anywhere. (Just make sure you're not walking in heels, heeled boots, etc...)
3) Walking can be social- it's an opportunity to spend time with your children, partner, friends, and family, whether it's in your neighborhood or out in nature. Hitting two birds with one stone (social time plus movement plus nature) is always a win.
4) Walking is a movement that can build bone density and prevent osteoporosis, as opposed to cycling or swimming, which are not weight bearing motions working in relationship to gravity. Women in particular, whether they are young or old, need to be doing movements that build local bone density, especially if their family has a history of osteoporosis. Here's an article from the NY times about bone density and cyclists.
5) Walking is a less intense physiological experience than running, putting less strain on the knees, heart, pelvis, and spine, especially if you only run on pavement. (More on that another day) Walking is a gentler way to get in daily movement, develop endurance, improve circulation, strengthen muscles, and support joints. It obviously burns calories, and there are varying opinions about whether walking burns the same amount of calories as running. To the running vs walking debate, I would say it depends on where you're walking/running, how you're walking, how you run, what shoes you wear, surface, grade, etc. (i.e. run 3 miles vs walk 3 miles)
6) Walking can improve symptoms of hypertension, cholesterol, diabetes just about as well as running, which is terrific for populations of people who are not runners, who may not be able to run, may carry excess weight on their frame, or who want to improve health without potential risks of high intensity cardio. Also, walking can be an awesome stress reducer- I often feel much better after a long walk.
7) Walking in flat, minimalist shoes on natural terrain can help mobilize the small bones of your feet, strengthen the small muscles in your feet and calves, and strengthen often ignored muscles in your hips, legs, and lower limb. Most of us walk on pavement, so integrating different terrains (rocks, sand, soft earth, etc) will actually change the loads to your feet profoundly! Read Katy Bowman's blog on this here!
8) Walking in flat shoes on natural terrain will also challenge your in terms of grade, i.e. hills up, grade down, etc. When we typically walk on sidewalks, there are very few hills and variations in gradation, which limits our ability to strengthen our glutes and hamstrings, as well as challenge our ankles and feet.
9) Walk while doing other things- I love to make phone calls while walking or listening to podcasts and audiobooks. It's a great way to do things that need to be done while integrating some movement into my day. Also, where can you walk to do errands? Can you walk to the post office, coffee shop, yoga studio, gym, farmer's market, or work? Get two things done at once!
10) Walking is beneficial for everyone. Whether you're a cyclist lacking bone density, or a heavy weight lifter or cardio enthusiast, walking is a different physical and physiological exercise than "working out." It's what Katy Bowman calls a movement macronutrient- something essential for human life. For folks working with organ prolapse, pelvic floor disorder, and diastasis recti, looking at alignment in standing and walking is a MUST. Also, running is not the same physiological experience as walking and even if you're an amazing runner, you may have some body blind spots because of your lack of walking! If you're a runner, walking on natural terrain will be a completely different experience than running a race on pavement or using the treadmill.
With that, I'm going to go walk my mostly blind dog around the block. (PS. She loves walks)