Walking offers unique benefits that no other work out provides.
Walking gently builds full body fitness, improves cardiovascular health, nourishes our joints, increases hip bone health, mobilizes and strengthens our feet, nurtures pelvic floor function and even provides a mental and emotional boost.
Walking is an essential and irreplaceable ‘movement nutrient’ that our bodies need in order to function well. Which makes it a great place to start your natural movement journey.
How much should we walk?
Current research suggests that we should be walking between 3-5 miles daily for optimal benefit – but if that seems out of reach, start by adding whatever works for your life.
The best way to add more walking is to make it part of our other daily activities. Walking to get groceries, take phone calls, and run errands makes it easier to get the quantity of walking that our bodies need. Planning leisure activities around walking is also a great option – think hiking, walks after dinner, or walking dates with friends.
Adding lots of short walks is often easier and more beneficial than a single long walk. We can get added benefits by also carrying stuff when we walk, such as groceries.
How should we walk?
As well as walking quantity, we need to think about walking quality.
On flat and level ground, walking is a combination of using our muscles to push our bodies forward, and using gravity to pull us along with our legs to catch us before we fall.
The more we use our muscles to walk, the better. That’s because using mostly gravity robs us of the metabolic benefits of using our muscles and leads to a lot more wear and tear on our bodies.
Because of all that chair sitting and shoe wearing, most of us have a hard time accessing the right muscles to walk well. Simple stretches and exercises to improve walking can make a big difference (these are a big focus in my Take10 coaching program).
Walking in minimal shoes is also really important – traditional shoes make it impossible to access our feet, our hips and our backline muscles that we need to walk better.
What physical abilities do we need for better walking?
Walking is reflexive – which means that our bodies will do it well naturally as long as they have the physical prerequisites. Chairs and shoes diminish the physical abilities that allow us to walk well. So exercises to help improve our walking abilities need to address the physical adaptations our bodies have made to our sedentary modern lifestyles.
Here are some of the key abilities that make for better walking:
- Strong and mobile intrinsic foot muscles and toe joints, especially the big toe
- Long and strong muscles on the backs of our legs: hamstrings and calves
- Good hip mobility, especially in hip extension (e.g. getting our thighbone behind our pelvis)
- Good ankle mobility in dorsiflexion (e.g. a smaller angle between the top of the foot and the shin)
- Lateral hip strength and mobility to stabilize and control the up and down motions of walking
- Long and supple psoas muscles for stability and hip extension
- Supple shoulder and chest muscles for an effective arm swing
- Whole body alignment from the feet to the neck for improved loads throughout the body
Where should we walk?
Although any walking is better than not walking, it’s best to walk in nature as much as possible. (This includes your local park, or even walking on the grassy strips at the side of the road. It doesn’t need to be wilderness).
Why natural surfaces? Because naturally textured terrains offer much more much more varied movement for our bodies. This translates to more movement overall because it demands more from our bodies that walking on flat and level pavement. Plus being out in nature is incredibly healing for our mental state. (But if all you have is pavement, definitely still walk!).
Walking on hills is also a great way to add variety and challenge. Walking uphill can help you build a butt and improve your ankle mobility. Walking along the side of a hill, off camber, will help your ankles as well. And walking downhill offers a workout for your thighs.
Courses For Better Walking
Take10 Online Movement Coaching
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