Walking is a natural tranquilizer,
releasing endorphins in the brain and spinal cord which lower anxiety
levels, lift depression, minimize pain and leave you feeling calm,
cheerful, relaxed and optimistic. Walking moves more oxygen into the
brain, increasing memory and the ability to think constructively,
shortening reaction time and creating a strong self-image. It reduces
dependency on nicotine, alcohol and other drugs.
Studies have shown that
exercise like walking and yoga boosts the immune system to lower the
risk of infection and cancer while hard, prolonged exercise raises this
risk. Regular walking also promotes strong, flexible muscles in the
arms, legs, abdomen and back, keeping all major muscle groups balanced
and aligned, improving posture and relieving lower back pain in many
The overall consensus of
studies is that a regular practice of weight bearing exercise like
walking or standing yoga postures significantly increases bone density,
even in postmenopausal women. Walking can also help improve or even
prevent conditions such as glaucoma, high blood pressure, and diabetes.
Setting Your Sights
exploring the objectives of your walking program. If walking could
bring you any of the following goals, which would be most important at
this stage of your life?
long-slow-distance mode is
designed to flatten stomachs, shrink hips, tighten thighs, and reduce
Conditioning. By training at higher
intensity levels, you will strengthen the heart muscle, improve aerobic
endurance, perform better in other aerobic activities, and recover more
quickly from acts of physical exertion.
Done consistently, this program
increases energy; reduces stress, fatigue, and your risk of heart
disease; improves mood and self-esteem, and may add years to your life.
Walking off weight takes a
combination of diet (fewer calories and less fat) and exercise. The key
to success in the beginning is walking for distance rather than
speed. Walking longer distances at a moderate pace is much more
effective than trying to sprint your fastest mile or two, simply
because you're more likely to do more walking--and do it more
comfortably with fewer injuries or days off. In fact, consistency
(exercising seven days a week) is equally important.
To walk enough to lose weight, you
need to discover your own optimum pace. That's the cruising pace that
you can maintain for 45 minutes or longer without gasping, fatiguing,
or developing muscle tightness or soreness. With consistency your
fitness level will automatically improve, your pace will naturally
increase and so will your fat-burning capacity. And if finding time is
a problem, or if long walks fatigue your joints, do several shorter
walks throughout the day. Three 15-minute walks can give you nearly the
same benefit as one 45-minute walk.
To strengthen the heart
improve the work capacity of the entire cardiovascular system, focus on
intensity. These workouts can be shorter than
workouts, and you can get results from training every other day.
Muscles that have been worked hard need rest --that's when the
rebuilding is done.
Warm-up by walking for 5
minutes at an easy pace. Then increase your pace, working the heart and
lungs hard enough to produce a good sweat for 20 to 30 continuous
minutes. Then decrease the pace for another 5 to 10 minutes as you cool
consistent, life-long physical activity. Modest amounts of exercise
like walking a mile a day will improve health significantly. You don't
need to "train"--you simply need to walk. Intensity is not as important
as duration and frequency. Furthermore, the type of exercise matters
little. What's important is lifelong maintenance. Investing 20 minutes
a day in walking is a great start for sedentary individuals. For those
already leading an active life, continuing with 40 to 60 minutes of
physical exercise a day is excellent.
Stay aware sensations in your body.
What makes this form of walking "yogic" is the consciousness with which
it is done.
2. Maintain Tadasana or
alignment. A common fault is lumbar lordosis, or swayback,
an arching of the lower back that results in one's rear end sticking
out. This often leads to lower-back pain. The solution is to press up
through the crown of your head, slightly contract your abdominal
muscles and apply the "core lift" by contracting the
muscles of the perineum located between the anus and genitals. This
will bring your pelvis into healthy alignment and support the spinal
column. If you have time for some supplemental exercise after your
walk, do slow, controlled abdominal work and pelvic-floor exercises.
Strong abs and pelvic muscles are keys to good posture and together act
as the base for both arm and leg movement.
3. Let your
arms bend. The faster you
walk, the more you have to get your upper body involved. The arms are
pendulums that swing as you walk, and a shorter pendulum swings faster
than a long pendulum. Thus, keeping your elbows bent shortens the
pendulum and allows the arms to swing more rapidly. And because the
arms and legs move in synchrony, a faster arm swing means a quicker
Relax. Efficient walking requires
that your movements be relaxed and fluid, and your body knows how to
achieve that if you allow it to. No hunched shoulders or stiff arms, no
slamming the heel into the ground reaching for an extra-long stride.
Rather your upper body movements are relaxed, and the transfer of
weight from one foot to the other is smooth.
quick steps, rather than long
strides. Reaching for a longer stride slows you down and decreases
the aerobic benefits of walking. Instead, concentrate on taking faster
steps and the optimal step length will occur naturally.
contact with the ground:
heel-ball-toes. This will help you move faster and increase the
aerobic benefits. Keeping the back knee relaxed and partly bent, throw
your foot forward from the hip and as your leg straightens, plant your
heel squarely and decisively on the ground, allowing your foot to roll
toward the ball and toes as you move forward.
care of your shins. The most
common ailment of a beginning walker is sore shins. This is because the
shin muscles pull the toes up when the heel strikes the ground. The
faster you walk, the higher your toes are at the heel-strike. Have
patience and gradually increase your speed over time to get
underdeveloped muscles in shape. Wear walking shoes rather than
thick-heeled running shoes, which exacerbate the problem.
8. Try some
rhythmic breathing patterns.
Breathe in rhythm with your steps, inhaling through your nose and
exhaling through your mouth. A good pattern is two short inhalations
followed by a long exhalation (one step per each inhalation and two
steps for the exhalation).
Walk at the appropriate rate for your
body. Use these practical physiologist's rules to assure
rate is high enough (but not too high): Walk fast enough to break a
light sweat and to increase your breath rate, but not so fast that you
are out of breath or gasping. If you're having a conversation, you
should have to pause regularly to breathe.