Whether you stroll, saunter, amble, stride or powerwalk, walking is great for you. This simple activity can transform your life. Let’s share a few good reasons why walking is so good for you.
1. It Promotes Good Health
From a health perspective, walking is the key to managing weight, controlling blood pressure, reducing the risk of a stroke, cancer and diabetes. It also lowers total cholesterol and increases high density lipoproteins (HDL) or the ‘good cholesterol’. In women, walking helps combat osteoporosis (loss of bone mass) and in men it reduces the risk of sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass). It is said a brisk daily walk lengthens your lifespan.
2. It Keeps You Mentally Refreshed
From a psychological perspective, walking offers an opportunity to clarify your thoughts, to crystalize and solve your problems and to reduce your stress levels. Walking elevates your mood and sense of wellbeing and decreases your risk of depression. Affirmations and positive reinforcements can be easily performed while walking. Your walking time can also effectively be utilized for listening to motivational speeches, satsang discourses or good music.
3. It Allows for Social Bonding
Walking regularly with someone else allows a friendship to blossom as the pair of you exercise. You could also schedule regular walks with your spouse or associates and use the time to discuss any issues without any distractions.
4. It Allows You to See the World Around You
The best way to explore some of the world’s great cities is on foot. As a young man, I can fondly remember exploring the holy city of Varanasi, walking from one ghat to the next. Walking enables one to keep life simple. With an abundance of technology in our lives, the simple beauty of life is often forgotten. Appreciate simplicity…Walk… Breathe… Live!
Walk at a pace that has you breathing heavily, but still leaving you able to talk freely. Your goal, eventually, is to walk five days a week, 30 minutes a walk. Do that and you are getting the base-level amount of exercise that research says should maintain your health and vigour. Start slowly, within your limits and do not increase by more than 10% weekly. A few minutes of warm up and stretching exercises will go a long way in preventing injuries.
1. Find a Shoe that Fits
Walking is one of the most economical sports one can participate in. The only equipment you really need is a decent pair of walking or running shoes.
2. When You Are Shopping for Running Shoes
Avoid fancy branded commercial sneakers. Look for a running shoe. What matters most is comfort and support.
Wear your socks you plan to exercise in. That way, you will get the best possible fit. Try on both shoes. Most people’s feet are not exactly the same size.
Allow a little extra room in your shoes. Feet swell when you walk, so buy a pair with about a thumb’s width between your longest toe and the end of your shoe. Make sure the heel does not slip through, or you could end up with painful blisters.
If you have flat feet, high arches, are a heavy pronator or supinator, consult a podiatrist first before investing in expensive running shoes.
Your feet are the foundation of your body. You have one pair for life, use them well.
3. Check Your Form
Sure, walking comes naturally, and it is wise to go with the technique that you have developed since you were a toddler. These tips will help you stay comfortable and get the most out of walking:
A key element to fitness walking is proper posture. Some people slump over when they walk, which over time can lead to problems. As you walk, point your chest straight ahead, tuck in your belly, relax your shoulders, keep your neck straight and your head held high. All this should already make you feel confident and better.
Move your arms. Bend your elbows and let your arms swing naturally at your sides. You will burn up to 15% more calories by keeping your arms moving.
Lengthening your stride in order to walk more quickly, known as over-striding, is a mistake. It puts you off balance without speeding up your pace. Speed up by taking short, quick strides, concentrating on pushing off your toes with every step. Pumping your arms quickly will automatically make your feet move faster.
Breathe deeply and as naturally as possible. Do not try and hold your breath while walking. Oxygen is invigorating – our muscles, brain and every cell needs oxygen. So inhale deeply without stressing yourself.
4. Stay Safe
Walking is one of the safest activities you can perform. Still, it is prudent to take a few precautions:
If you are walking at night or when visibility is low, wear a piece of reflective clothing or a band. Do not forget to have a good flashlight. Always walk in the opposite direction of moving traffic so that you can see what is approaching.
In countries where crime is rife, walk with a partner and walk in protected, closed environments.
Keep yourself well hydrated by drinking sufficient water.
If your path is rugged or bumpy, protect your ankles, particularly if you have a history of twists or sprains.
Listen to your body. Your body will tell you exactly when you need to slow down, rest or heal. Recover from any injuries completely before resuming walking, otherwise injuries will recur frequently.
Keep it up
If you think walking is hard work or you become irregular in your walking, the following ideas may help sustain your activity:
1. Walk with a Friend
If you’ve got a friend waiting for you, you’re more likely to get out of bed or drag yourself away from the TV or phone. Better still; take your entire family out on a walk occasionally and especially on holidays. If all else fails, man’s best friend, his dog, will always be ready to accompany you.
2. Go Exploring
Varying your route and terrain will keep you mentally engaged and give different leg muscles a workout. Once a week, complete your errands on foot.
3. Step Out for Charity
Pledging a small sum of money for every kilometre or mile you walk for your favourite charity or the mandir can be a good motivator. Participating in a sponsored walk will bring back that ‘I feel great’ factor.
Nice to Haves
1. Use a Pedometer
These nifty gadgets measure how far you’ve walked in steps and kilometres. They provide motivation by spurring you to meet a particular goal and showing you if you’ve met it. Often pedometers hook onto your belt and are small and easy to use – great birthday or Father’s Day gifts! Alternatively, download a walking app on your cell phone to monitor your progress.
For those who hate the sun or cannot walk outdoors for some reason, you can walk in the comfort of your home on a treadmill. Not for me though, I love the fresh, green, outdoors.
Spirituality and Walking
Until recently Pramukh Swami Maharaj used to walk on a regular basis, mostly twice a day. Swamishri used his walking time as exercise, more so as a means to give darshan to devotees and to meet and greet them – moments they cherish forever. Today many senior and junior BAPS sadhus have taken to walking as exercise.
Whatever your preference – doing pradakshinas in the Akshar Deri or at your local mandir; or chanting the Janmangal Namavali while walking, remembering darshans of Swamishri – walking is in and here to stay! Walking is the premier exercise for all.