Your support can turn a life
You know walking is good for your health. But you often find it too comfortable on the sofa, too tired, or too busy to get a walk in before dark. How’s it that some people have no trouble walking as a natural part of their day? Shobha Nair reveals the secret…
“It’s more enjoyable walking with friends, chatting along the way. We discuss everything from movies and serials to family, and plenty about aches and pains. I've even induced my husband to come out on a few walks.”
“I had open-heart surgery some years back, and felt that I needed to lose some weight. Exercise seemed easier than dieting (I’ve enough problems watching my cholesterol, salt, sugar, etc.), so my wife and I started walking - half an hour every day. See, I’m still going strong…”
Col. S J Sood
Dr Akash Sen, a specialist in health behaviour, explains why: "Because they've made walking both pleasurable and functional. Maybe they accomplish daily tasks and activities on foot. Or they enjoy a great conversation with a friend, spouse, or grandchild during a walk with one another. Making walking a part of your life is easier than you think," he says. "Some people find peace of mind while taking a hike; others may prefer listening to music or bhajans or even a discourse."
Put Fun into Exercise
What comes to mind when you think of recreation -- laughing, relaxing, spending time with friends and family? So it doesn't seem likely that exercise (often a dreaded word) could be fun. Walking is one of the easiest forms of exercise. And with a little imagination, walking can be something you actually… dare we say… enjoy. It's all in how you view it.
Have a picnic: When was the last time you had a picnic? With just a slight tweak, a picnic becomes a fun way to walk. Plan an outdoor lunch along a hiking trail or at a park with walking paths. Build up your appetite with a walk to your lunch site. Then work off your meal on the walk back. The scenic strolls will remind you of the beauty of nature. And you'll enjoy the conversation with family and friends.
Joys of shopping: A trip to the mall, craft fair, or exhibitions might burn a hole in your wallet, but it's sure to burn calories as well. When you're shopping, it's easy to lose sight of the fact you're getting in a lot of walking time. Spend a couple of hours making your way through the shopping centre or booths. After you decide on items to purchase, make a last trip through to pick them up.
"Edutainment": With the click of a computer key, we can read about an animal, history topic, or a piece of art. But nothing will ever replace the fun of viewing things up close. Visit a zoo or a museum with your grandkids. If the weather is bad, head for an art or history museum. Walking around the exhibits will stimulate your mind while providing hidden exercise.
Walking Games: These days "games" are high-tech joysticks kids use for video games. The only physical need is the speed of the player's thumb. Long before video, games were activities of the whole family or a group of friends. Modernise your favourite old-time games with your grandchildren, or neighbours. A couple of ideas to get you started:
- Hold walking races at the local track. Come up with some prizes if kids are involved.
- Set up walking "hunts." Identify objects during your walk—from a specific plant to the colour of a flower to a billboard ad.
Are you convinced? Do you have a bank, post office, library, or stores under two kilometres from your home or work? If so, leave the car behind! Walk to do an errand, grab a newspaper, or pick up a healthy lunch. And don't stop at the closest store. Choose one a little further down the street so your walk is a little longer.
Benefits of Walking
If a daily fitness walk could be put in a pill, it would be one of the most popular prescriptions in the world. Walking can reduce the risk of many diseases — from heart attack and stroke to hip fracture and glaucoma. Sounds like claims on a bottle of snake oil? Don’t worry, they’re backed by major research. Walking requires no prescription, the risk of side effects is very low, and the benefits are numerous:
Downsizing. To get rid of unwanted kilos, all you need are your own legs, some comfortable shoes, and a little open space. Combined with healthy eating, physical activity is key to long-lasting weight control. As an added incentive, you get to lower your risks of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer, sleep apnoea, and osteoarthritis. It strengthens muscles, which tones and shapes your body, thus boosting your metabolism. And you don't have to do it all in one go. Find pockets of time through the day for short jaunts. It need not be hard, just steady. It's simple, enjoyable, and a good weapon in the battle against bulge.
Walk to sleep. Walking helps you sleep better so you wake up energised and ready for the day. Take a short stroll before and after dinner. This helps soothe your nerves while burning calories. The use of energy combined with the stress-release relaxes your body and mind, helping you sleep better and longer. On restless nights, instead of turning on the TV, get up and pace around the house. Take in deep breaths as you move. Shake out arms and legs. Stretch out your neck. When you climb back into bed, you'll feel more prepared for a healthy trip into dreamland.
Give your brain a power boost! You lace up your walking shoes, stretch, and set out on a brisk walk…all with the goal of being fit and healthy. Did you know that walking helps you think more clearly, make better decisions, solve problems and concentrate? Even small doses of walking, like a 15-minute trek, can increase your brain power. To top it all, the mental perks continue long after your body has cooled down.
Strength in every step. It's a fact of life. With age, our bones lose density and our muscles weaken. Walking is a proven method for boosting strength. At a brisk pace, it helps control the effects of ageing on bones and muscles. How? It gets your heart pumping and sends oxygen through the body, strengthens heart and the muscle groups responsible for movement, as well as your bones and joints. It's low impact, so even a rapid pace rarely causes strain or injury to knees, ankles, back, or hips.
- Boosts HDL. Walking improves the level of high-density lipoproteins (HDL), known as "good" cholesterol. And it helps reduce low-density lipoproteins (LDL or "bad" cholesterol) in the blood, which can cause plaque buildup along the artery walls — a major cause of heart attacks.
- Avoid gallstone surgery. Regular walking or other physical activity lowers the risk of needing gallstone surgery by 20% to 31%, found a Harvard study of more than 60,000 women of ages 40 to 65.
The advantages go on and on. Studies indicate a daily brisk walk also help prevent depression, colon cancer, constipation, osteoporosis, and impotence; lengthen lifespan; lower stress levels; relieve arthritis and back pain; and elevate the overall mood and sense of well-being.
Keep it Steady
A steady routine is the most important factor in getting the most out of your exercise programme. Walking for 30 minutes, 5 times a week is recommended.
Use these tips to keep you on track:
- Watch your posture. Walk tall. Think of elongating your body. Hold your head up and eyes forward. Your shoulders should be down, back and relaxed. Tighten your abdominal muscles and buttocks and fall into a natural stride. Be sure to drink plenty of water before, during, and after walking. Incorporate a warm up, cool down and stretches into your routine.
- Start your walk at a slow warm up pace, stop and do a few flexibilty drills. Then walk for the desired length of time. End your walk with the slower cool down pace and stretch well after your walk. Stretching will make you feel great and assist in injury prevention.
- During your walks, you should be able to maintain a conversation. If you’re breathing too lightly, increase your pace. If you can’t catch your breath, slow it down.
- Walk around the local area after lunch or dedicate 15 minutes to walking up and down stairs. Climbing is an excellent way to strengthen your heart.
- At night, trade a half hour of TV for a brisk stroll around the block. Take a friend with you for company or get the whole family involved.
Remember, walking is a simple, inexpensive activity that requires nothing more than a pair of good walking shoes and an open mind. It gives you all the benefits of other forms of recreation. So instead of taking your shoes off to relax, put them on. Go for a walk to turn your exercise into fun.