Walking 65,000 Miles


Walking Works Health Wonders

Many people treat their bodies as if they were rented from Hertz -
something they are using to get around in but nothing they genuinely care about understanding.

- Lawrence Durrell

My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was 60.
She's 97 now, and we don't know where the hell she is.

- Ellen DeGeneres

by Mike Falcon

If you're looking for the ideal way to comfortably improve your health, walking is the nearly ideal exercise.  From burning fat to rekindling romance, "You can change your life through walking," says Dr Nicholas Sol, podiatrist and founder of The Walking Clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

"It's more or less automatic, almost anyone can do it well, it takes a minimum amount of special equipment, and it's low impact," Sol explains.  "And because there are a wide variety of environments you can walk in with the entire family, it can be a truly social exercise experience, rather than an isolating one.  Basically walking is low risk, and high reward."

It doesn't even take a whole lot of effort.  The Center for Disease Control recommends just 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity on most - and preferably all - days of the week.  This translates to walking 3-5 miles per hour, which most people can accomplish with relative ease.  But even more moderate walking can translate into noticeable health benefits:

Weight control - A half-hour of vigorous walking can burn 180-250 calories.  A 130-pound person will burn approximately 380 calories walking at 5 mph for 60 minutes.

Walking at a slower pace for longer periods of time may actually burn more fat, particularly if the walk is done early in the morning, before breakfast.  At this time of day, with no ready caloric source in the digestive system, the body is more likely to tap into existing glycogen stores (body fat) to fuel extended exercise.

Heart attack - Walking more than an hour a week can cut the risk of a first heart attack by 73% - as much as high-intensity exercise - according a 1999 study reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine.  Three hours of brisk walking reduced heart disease by 30-40% in women, according to an analysis of the Nurses' Health Study, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine last August.

Older men who walked two miles a day had half the risk of heart attack of those who walked only half a mile, says a July 1999 article in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Breast cancer - More findings from the Nurse's Health Study, published in the October 1999 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, showed that seven hours per week of moderate to vigorous exercise such as brisk walking can reduce breast cancer rates by 20%.

Longevity - In a seven-year study involving 40,000 Iowa women, University of Minnesota researchers found that those who exercised moderately as little as once a week were 24% less likely to die prematurely.  The results were published in the October 1977 issue of the Mayo Clinic Newsletter.

Disability - Adult aged 65 and older who demonstrated high levels of physical activity were almost twice as likely to die disability-free, compared with inactive counterparts, as reported in the April 1999 issue of American Journal of Epidemiology.

Age-referenced mortality - A 12-year study of retired men - average age 69 - reported in the New England Journal of Medicine (8 January 1998) found that those walking two or more miles a day were 40% less likely to die than those the same age who walked less than a mile.  The eight-year Harvard Alumni Study found in 1993 that men who walked 1.3 miles or more per day had a 22% lower risk of death than those who walked less than .4 miles per day.

Age and cognition - Sedentary men and women ages 60-75 who were enrolled in a progressive exercise program which culminated in walking 45 minutes per day, three times a week at a 16-minute per mile pace, improved cognitive abilities significantly, says a study described in the July 1999 issue of Nature.

Researchers noted that oxygen intake increased by 5% over the course of the program, prompting speculation that active walking combats the normal decline in cell size and blood flow to the frontal and prefrontal brain areas.

Osteoporosis - All weight-bearing exercise - including walking - helps increase strength and bone density.  Walking improves circulation, increases the supply of oxygen and lubrication to joints, and facilitates the rapid removal of waste byproducts.  Ligaments are kept pliable and thicken through regular use.  And losing just a few pounds through walking lessens stress on joints.

Diabetes - The 20 October 1999 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that one hour of brisk walking every day can cut a women's risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in half.

Slow walking apparently works well too.  At the University of Michigan, a small study by professor Katrina Borer found that women walking at a leisurely 18-20 minute per mile pace lost even more body fat and became more sensitive to insulin.  Growth hormone levels, however, were lower than levels associated with 15-minute miles.

Cholesterol - An increase in good cholesterol has been associated with moderate exercise, including walking, in a wide variety of studies.

Stroke - Walking more than 20 kilometers a week was associated with significantly lower risk of brain attack, according to a 1998 study published in the American Heart Association's journal Stroke.

Glaucoma - Sedentary people who walked 40 minutes three times a week experienced an average of a 9% reduction in intraocular eye pressure, according to an Oregon Health Sciences University study.  Other studies found regular exercise lowered pressure by 20% in those at risk for the disease, and by 16% in those with glaucoma.

Depression - Walking decreases incidence of depression through the production of endorphins and the neurotransmitter serotonin, as does virtually any sustained exercise.

Psychosocial function - The very act of walking, removed from the determined and preset pace necessary for purely physical benefits based on accelerated movement and heartbeat, is viewed as helpful in a wide variety of psychosocial functions, particularly in outdoor settings.

Marriage and family counselors increasingly urge their clients to walk together outdoors.  It gets them outside of their home and in a neutral emotional setting.  It removes them from physical spaces fraught with sometimes little-recognised but powerful personal space and boundary issues.  Walking together also removes distractions - such as everyday chores like washing dishes and vacuuming - to rebuilding romantic connections.  The production of pleasurable endorphins produced while walking can also serve to anchor the positive emotional state to the presence of a partner.  And it doesn't have to be outdoors.  Even on adjoining treadmills, couples find walking helpful.  Generally, people who have the support of their spouse in an exercise program are more likely to continue with it.  Walking together reinforces the health of a "we," rather than just a "me."

So if you won't walk for yourself, do it for your partner.  You'll both be glad in the long "run."

The Essential Steps of Walking Well

I just love long walks - especially when they're taken by people who really piss me off...

While few activities seem more instinctively effortless or beneficial than a walk, many of the health advantages from that 30-minute daily jaunt may be counteracted by poor physical mechanics and faulty footwear.  In short, walking could hurt you more than help you if not done properly.

"Although it seems that walking correctly should be something everybody does naturally, it's not," says Sherry Brourman, a West Los Angeles physical therapist whose clients have included Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver, and Burt Reynolds.  "Whenever I watch a lot of people walk, I want to tell many of them that they could prevent impending structural damage, or eliminate pain, if they just made a few simple corrections to the way they walk."

Brourman did just that last year with a walking clinic for people participating in the Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day Walk.  By analysing and correcting defective gait problems - something she's been doing professionally for 25 years - Brourman helped many avoid injuring themselves or aggravating physical problems they already had.

Imbalances or asymmetries in the way we hold our bodies when we stand or walk, often learned in childhood from imitating our parents, are frequently the cause of chronic pains.  "Surgery, bed rest, or bracing are not the solutions," says Brourman.  "The answer is to balance the gait."

Walking Well

Like most things in life, a good gait - or walking pattern - is built upon a solid foundation.  "You need your feet to be as wide apart as your hips," she says.

Widening the feet brings the upper body forward and keeps you from leaning back, perhaps the most classic defect in the way people walk.  "It's important when you walk that your center of gravity be up over your feet, not somewhere behind you."  Feet at hip-width automatically improves posture and brings you back into better equilibrium.

Other important factors of a healthy walking pattern are:

bulletKeep your ankles tight, so that they don't roll in toward each other.  Wobbly ankles cause the feet to pronate, unevenly distributing your weight on the bones and muscles of your legs and feet.
bulletKeep your knees soft and spongy, not locked into a hyperextended position.
bulletHold your stomach in.  This helps stabilise the hips and bring the chest, shoulders and back into proper postural alignment.
bulletBring your foot down on the center of your heel, keeping the body up and over as you roll your weight back and forth over the hips and down onto the balls of your feet.

Walking in this manner may feel strange at first, because many of us have been walking incorrectly for a lifetime.  Paying attention to how we stand and walk - something few of us do - is the first step.

Brourman's book, Walk Yourself Well: Eliminate Back, Neck, Shoulder, Knee, Hip and Other Structural Pain Forever - Without Surgery or Drugs, provides easy methods for identifying and solving your specific posture and gait problems - something you can do for yourself, she says, because the standards of human symmetry are the same for everyone.

"The truth is that height, weight, proportions, age, sex, and all other human features and options don't change the basic elements of a symmetrical walk," she says.

Stepping up the Pace

Once you've got your balance and alignment in order, conditioning may be next on the agenda.  While walking at even a modest rate can improve health in many ways, "most of the measurable benefits tend to accrue as we increase our speed," notes Mark Fenton, editor-at-large of Walking Magazine.  To boost velocity and maximise the fitness potential of your walking, Fenton suggests these tips which dovetail neatly with Brourman's advice:

bulletUse a "tall" posture.  Look forward, not down at the ground, with your chin level and head up.  Keep your eyes on the horizon.  "This opens up the chest cavity and helps prevent excessive spinal curvature."
bulletTighten your stomach and flatten your back.  Tilt your pelvis under and forward - no "shelf" out back.  This can avert lower back, gluteal, and hamstring tightness.
bulletTake quicker, shorter strides.  This allows you to increase speed and maintain comfortable mechanics.
bulletBend your arms.  Fenton suggests "locking" the elbow at a 90-degree angle, swinging your arms from waist height to sternum.  This makes your arms a shorter pendulum, so they can swing faster as your steps speed up.
bulletPush off with your toes.  Use the natural spring of your calf muscles to propel you forward.  Think "I'm showing the bottom of my shoes" with each step.  This improves horizontal momentum and minimises vertical bounce.

But no matter how fast your footwork, it's going to be torture if your shoes aren't right.

Four F's of Footwear

"The shoe is, in effect, the ground you walk on," says Dr Nicholas Sol of The Walking Clinic in Colorado Springs, who uses high-tech video analysis to craft custom corrective orthotic shoe inserts.  "If there is an unevenness in the ground, you can walk around it.  But if there's something wrong with your shoe, then every step you take has an effect upon your foot, ankle, leg, and all the way up the human structure through the hips and back and into the neck."

For anyone adopting walking as their exercise regimen, anatomically appropriate footwear is essential.  "Just keep in mind the four F's of footwear, and you'll start off with an advantage," advises the expert:

bulletFit - If the shoe doesn't fit well when you first try it on, don't buy it, says Sol.  "It's not going to stretch significantly, and it can restrict movement of the toes, essential in proper movement of the foot."  Make sure there's enough room to move the toes laterally and up and down.  With athletic shoes, you can check sizing by removing the foot pad and standing on it.  "If you can't see any of the pad, move up a half size," advises Sol.  Do not go up in shoe size merely to accommodate a need for additional width.  "That changes the flex line of the shoe, and the point where your foot and the shoe flex will no longer be coordinated."  This can cause discomfort and injury.
Sol points out that providing the correct length and width for all persons, especially in large half sizes for both men and women, is a daunting stock problem for shoe stores.  If you know your size, on-line shoe emporiums can provide a better selection of styles for the hard-to-fit foot.
bulletFunction - "Great shoes are engineered 'up' from function, rather than 'down' from style," notes Mario Lafortune, director of the Nike Sports Research Lab.  A walking shoe, for example, takes into account a heel that strikes the ground before the rest of the foot follows, in contrast to running shoes made for midfeet or toes that hit the pavement first.
Similarly, women's and men's shoes take gender differences into account.  Women's feet are narrower at the ball and heel.  "Generally, women shouldn't wear men's shoes, and vice versa," notes Lafortune.
bulletForm - Bad show form can hurt your health.  "The most serious problem I see today are hip fractures caused by elderly people buying athletic shoes with aggressive sole patterns," says Sol.  "They wear aggressive lug-style soles which are made to grip difficult surfaces.  When these catch on carpeting, an older person can stumble, fall, and easily break a hip.  When you consider that one elderly person in five who breaks a hip dies within a year, that shoe selection becomes extremely critical."  Sol's unpublished research reveals that over 80% of falls in the elderly are due to a mismatch of shoe and surface.
bulletFashion - "Unfortunately, fashion drives the shoe world," notes Sol.  While the boxy shoes with wide heels currently in vogue for women are healthier for the feet than narrow, stiletto-heeled models, most women's dress shoes sacrifice comfort for style.
Though men fare better, "it's more difficult to conceal optimal mechanics with a dress shoe," notes Lafortune.  "But our work with Cole Hahn increasingly demonstrates that you can have it exactly your way."  Nike recently purchased the dress shoe manufacturer and has subtly integrated state-of-the-art walking shoe technology into a new line of business footwear.

But no matter what style you chose, get in step now.  "Even out on the ranch in cowboy boots, which aren't exactly the best, the key is to keep moving," says Sol, "but moving comfortably."  Adopting a regular walking program can work wonders.  "As long as you keep walking," Sol concludes, "you'll reap the benefits."

For more information:

American Podiatric Medical Association www.apma.org
American College of Foot and Ankle Orthopedics & Medicine www.acfaom.org

For essential information on how to evaluate and correct your walking, Sherry Brourman's Walk Yourself Well is highly recommended.

For more information about walking for fitness and recreation, check out Walking Magazine's Web site at www.walkingmag.com.

Written with the assistance of medical adviser Stephen A Shoop MD "A Doctor In Your House"

Source: USA Today 4 - 5 April 2000 © USA Today, a division of Gannett Company Incorporated

In your lifetime, you will walk about 65,000 miles.
During your lifetime, you'll eat about 60,000 pounds of food.

Anywhere is walking distance, if you've got the time.

- Steven Wright

Not New Zealand!

Research Finds Stair Messages Double Use

A man's health can be judged by which he takes two at a time - pills or stairs.

- Joan Welsh

The vision must be followed by the venture.  It is not enough to stare up the steps - we must step up the stairs.

- Vance Havner

Putting banners on stairs congratulating people for walking up them encourages them to do it more.  Researchers took over a stairwell in Wolverhampton Shopping Centre and pasted messages like "stay healthy" and "work your legs" on each step.  They found more shoppers avoided the escalators even after the banners came down.

Fewer than 10% of people in the shopping centre had been using stairs.  But the research, overseen by Birmingham University sports psychologist Frank Eves, found the stair banners doubled the figure.

The final message in the series of banner adverts was "well done" on the very last step.

Mr Eves said that having so many banners, each with a different message, targets different types of people whereas a single poster at the bottom of the stairs may only appeal to one.  He added: "There may be a couple of reasons why this worked.  One may be that the more often people walk up the stairs the more opportunity they got to see these messages."

The study was published in Preventive Medicine.

Source: Ananova Wednesday 31 October 2001

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