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Walking back to happiness

Walking, simple brisk, walking comes out tops time and time again as a powerful, safe and cheap method of getting and staying fit. It’s free, can be done at any time of the day, needs minimal equipment, and doesn’t require a personal trainer and, best of all IT WORKS!

Researchers have identified thirty minutes walking at a brisk pace, at least three times per week as the minimum amount to begin to make a body work better, five times a week will see improvement happen even quicker.

So what parts of the body can be helped by walking? Obviously walking strengthens muscles of the legs and lower back, among others. Walking at a brisk pace challenges the cardiac system. The activity of walking 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 the actual muscle of the heart.

Once the walking speed is sufficient to make you a little breathless, the lungs are put under pressure, giving them a good work out too. If you hold and use the arms in a particular way, the muscles of the neck, shoulder and mid-back work too.

All this activity sets off a chain of endorphin release in the brain. Endorphins are naturally occurring opiates or ‘happy chemicals’. Once activated, endorphins create a natural high, bringing about a feeling of well being and an energy boost.

As a Chartered Physiotherapist I am often asked whether there is a good, bad or better way to walk. The answer is definitely yes: to get the best out of each thirty minute session remember
Wear good, shock absorbing shoes: sneakers, walking shoes or MBTs
Consciously ‘walk tall’. Centre your ears over your shoulders (not ahead of them) and stand tall through your hips
Making 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 that chatting as you go is out of the question
If you have never walked like this before, start gradually.

Aim for brisk pace right from the start, but walk for less time in the beginning. A good method for starters is ‘the timed walk’. From your starting point, walk AS FAR as you can, AS FAST as you can for seven minutes. Note the exact place you reach, note the particular tree, light or gate. Turn around, and keeping up the same brisk pace, walk back to your starting point. The trick is to see whether you made it back in seven minutes, or is it seven minutes 23 seconds. If you cannot keep up the pace, this is your challenge! Next time, force the pace to get back in exactly seven minutes. Over the following weeks, stick at seven out, seven back and quite quickly you will see that you are gaining distance, going further, even one lamp post further on than at the start. This is the training effect you are aiming to achieve and should give you a real sense of achievement.

When this gets easy extend to eight out and back, then ten, next twelve, up to fifteen each way. Progress to a regular Sli na Slainte if you are lucky enough to have is one nearby and then just keep up… forever.

Finally, if you are at the age where you are complaining of arthritic hips or knees, extra walking is not to be advised. The cumulative loading wears away these joints more and can hasten the damage. Use similar pacing principles on a bicycle instead, and you will get almost the same all round happy healthy benefit.

See you on the road!

Mairead O’Riordan, MSc, MISCP is a senior Chartered Physiotherapist & CEO of TherapyXperts, an allied health network dedicated to clinical excellence.
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TherapyXperts: Registered business address: Kandoy House, 2 Fairview Strand, Fairview, Dublin 3, Ireland|Phone: +353 818 333 611|Email: info@therapyxperts.ie
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