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Walking back to happiness

By Elaine Barry
      
Walking - simple brisk or power walking - comes out tops time and time again as a safe and cheap method of getting and staying fit. It’s free, can be done by most people irrespective of fitness levels, at any time of the day and needs minimal equipment. Best of all - IT WORKS!

Thirty minutes walking at a brisk pace, at least three times each week, is agreed within the medical community as the minimum amount needed to begin to make a body work better.

So what parts of the body can be helped by power walking? Obviously walking strengthens muscles of the legs and lower back, among others. By using the arms in a particular way, the muscles of the neck, shoulder and mid-back work too.

Walking at a brisk pace challenges the cardiac system as exercise demands that more blood is delivered to actively working limb muscles. The heart has to beat faster and more efficiently to send out more volume of blood. In turn, this strengthens heart muscle. Equally once the speed is enough to make you a little breathless, lungs come under pressure, giving them a good work out also.


All this activity sets off a chain of endorphin release in the brain. Endorphins are naturally occurring ‘happy chemicals’. Once activated, endorphins create a natural high, bringing about an energy boost along with a feeling of well being.
      
Is there a good, bad or better way to walk? The answer is definitely yes.

To get the best out of each 30 minute session remember

Wear good, shock absorbing shoes: sneakers or walking shoes, laced up snugly.
Consciously ‘walk tall’. Centre your ears over your shoulders (not ahead of them) and stand tall through your hips
Make a relaxed fist with each hand, bend your elbows and as you walk swing your forearms in a short arc forward and backward
Stride out. Longer steps cover more ground and make leg muscles work harder. Walk at sufficient pace so that talking as you walk is out of the question
      
If you are not a walker just now, start gradually. Aim for a brisk pace right from the start, however in the beginning do not try to achieve thirty minutes immediately.

As a Chartered Physiotherapist I sometimes need to caution certain patients with that walking is not best suited to them. Individuals with known arthritic hips or knees, especially if heavy in body shape, may actually increase the wear on their joints by power walking. Instead cycling, using similar pacing principles produces almost the same healthy benefit, without cost to the joints. Walking is often advised for people with back pain, but again not in early stages of recovery. If in doubt, consult your G.P. or chartered physio for specific advice.

See you on the road!


Copyright TherapyXperts

Elaine Barry is a Chartered Physiotherapist and certified Pilates Instructor at TherapyXperts Mount Merrion. Tel: 0818 333 611.
      
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