A few years ago I got into jogging – and couldn’t stop. I did some extreme runs – between cities! I’m not going to encourage you to start running marathons but I do want to talk up the benefits of walking.
I say take every opportunity you can to walk. It’s fine to have lofty ideas about going to the gym three times a week, it’s even better when you actually execute that idea and get to the gym but too often life gets in the way and we don’t exercise as much as we should. If you walk whenever you can, you will be ‘accumulating’ exercise and that does count for something!
Walk when you can
You might not be able to walk to work, but how about parking your car a couple of blocks from the station and walking for 15 minutes before you arrive at work? Or go for a walk straight after breakfast before starting household chores? Never take the lift or escalators if you can take the stairs between floors.
The big question is should you be walking briskly or leisurely? I am not a big fan of pets – I’m neither a dog nor a cat person, but dog-owners tell me that the good thing about owning a pooch is that you feel compelled to walk the animal every day.
It turns out that walking briskly is definitely better for you than strolling slowly. The Mayo Clinic has just done a study looking at the benefits of walking slowly compared to walking quickly.
Just for your information, the Mayo Clinic is the number one hospital in the United States. It is also a not-for-profit academic research medical centre, employing 4,500 doctors and scientists. Believe me, you can trust the research that comes out of the Mayo Centre.
Walking fast increases your life expectancy
A recent study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that ‘fast walkers’ could be improving their life expectancy by 15 to 20 years. The study looked at the walking patterns of 475,000 people in Britain with an average age of 52. It found that the fast-walkers live longer.
Why did American researchers use British subjects? Britain is running a project looking at the health of middle-aged people as part of the UK Biobank. It has signed up as many middle-aged people as it could find! The almost half-a-million middle-aged people were recruited at 22 centres in England, Scotland and Wales. Participants were told about the study through their family doctors. Just think about the wealth of knowledge this study will collect on the aging process. Researchers plan on using this information to develop strategies to keep middle-aged people healthy. I don’t know about you, but I think that is a fantastic idea!
Lead researcher Professor Tom Yates, from the University of Leicester, said the findings about fast walking reinforce the importance of physical fitness – it keeps your body weight down and increases your life expectancy. Encouraging people to walk more quickly might just add years to their lives!
Fast walking can add more than a decade to your life expectancy
The study found that slow walkers had a life expectancy of 72.4 years for women and 64.8 years for men. On the other hand, the people who reported taking brisk walks regularly had a life expectancy of about 87 years in women and about 86 years in men.
The study measured walking pace, body mass, waist circumference and body-fat percentage of the UK Biobank cohort. Walking pace was self-assessed by participants with a single-item question: “How would you describe your usual walking pace? (1) Slow pace, (2) Steady/average pace, (3) Brisk pace.”
“Poor physical fitness—encompassing low cardiorespiratory fitness and muscle strength–and high levels of overweight are fundamental characteristics of an unhealthy lifestyle and important predictors of excess morbidity and mortality,” the study reported. That means if you aren’t fit and your heart and muscle strength is poor and you are overweight expect to get sick and die earlier than people who look after themselves!
Okay, if you want to become a fast walker there are a few fundamentals you need to follow.
How to train yourself to walk fast
1. Assume the position!
As you walk, your chin should be up, your eyes looking straight in front of you, your back straight, chest raised, and shoulders relaxed. Pretend you're walking on a straight invisible white line. This will help keep your body in the correct position.
Do not forget to do some stretching before you exercise. You need to warm up beforehand as it will help prevent injury. Do stretches to cool down for the same reason.
2. Use your arms to increase your speed
Your arms should be at your sides, bent at just under 90 degrees. Swing your arms front to back, not side to side as you walk. They should be going out in front of you, and never crossing. Use your arms to increase your workout and speed. It will also help you burn more calories. With more muscle groups being used, you'll get more out of your exercise.
3. Take little steps, not big steps
People think you will walk faster if you take big steps but that is wrong. You want your feet to quickly bounce off the ground, but if you take big steps you touch down heavily and slowly. Take short, small, light quick steps and you will soon find you are walking at a brisk pace.
4. Push off on your toes not your heels
When your foot hits the ground, roll from your heel to your toes. Move the weight forward through your foot from heel to toes then push your next step off with your toes. Pushing off with your toes engages your leg and bottom muscles and gives you a better workout. The natural spring of your calf muscles will propel your body forward and keep the momentum going. Rolling from heel to toe as you touch down will reduce the risk of injury.
5. Tighten your stomach and bottom
As you walk, stand up straight, but tilt your hips just a little bit forward. Finally make sure you ‘suck it in’, that means you need to keep all your muscles tight, especially your stomach and bottom.
6. Think of this as fun, not ‘exercise’
A brisk walk can burn as many calories as running, however you need to enjoy your walks. It is YOUR TIME. Invest in a great pair of shoes and get them fitted properly. Find a lovely place to walk, perhaps a park or a path along the beach. Go with a friend or wear earphones and listen to music (just don’t get run over by a car). Consider going for a couple of nice walks in a day if you can find the time. Maybe you can wear a pedometer to measure your steps every day and aim to increase the count.
Walking is a great form of exercise and doesn’t cost a cent, so what is stopping you? Get walking today.
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ABOUT PAT MESITI
Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.