The Benefits of Walking

I am a heavy man. I’m over 300 pounds of pasty white Minnesotan flesh. Much as I’d like to, I can’t say it’s all muscle. So, one day after wheezing my way up some stairs, I made the decision to start moving around more. I tried running, but after half a block and the collapse, that didn’t last long. Not to mention the knee problems that started cropping up when I was trying more than that. Basically, I am too heavy (right now) to run. Walking, however? I can do walking. It may take me some time, but I can get there with quite a number of health benefits. I want to share the way I started walking, the benefits I’ve seen (and that the science backs up), and generally share some hints and tips if you are wondering if walking can work for you.

Benefits of Walking

Green ElectrocardiogramPhysical Endurance – This one is kind of a no-brainer: walking improves all sorts of physical endurance. There was a 2009 study done in Norway by Mønness and Sjølie that found that there were significant gains in physical performance by children who walked 20 minutes every school day. They found that there was an 8% increase in hamstring flexibility, 69% increase in balance, and variable increase of 6-14% in the ol’ ticker fitness. If walking can do that for children, think of what it can do for you!

Disease Prevention – According to the Harvard Health Letter, brisk walking helps lower the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers…they also pointed out in September of 2014 that it may help folks with mild to moderate Parkinson’s improve their motor functions and all other markers (mood, fitness, etc.). The great thing about this is that you only need to walk about 3mph, and only 45 minutes 3 times a week to get this.

Mental Health – I’ve always taken a walk when I’ve felt down or slightly stir-crazy (it happens all the time here in winter in Northern Minnesota). Turns out that there’s science behind that. According to a study published in June 2015, walking significantly decreased for post-menopausal women who did brisk walks of 40 minutes three times a week compared to inactive women (Bernard, Nino, Bernard, Picot, Jaussent, Tallon & Blain). I’m no scientist, but this indicates a significant mental-health boost for people who go on walks, it doesn’t have to be crazy exertion or anything at all. Walking definitely settles my mind…and will likely settle yours too.

Setting up a Regimen for Walking

To start with:
You will want to be sure to check with a health professional before starting any regimen. If you’re going to dive into something like speed walking, or going on 5k’s or anything like that when you walk, then it’s better to check with a doctor. They’ll be sure to let you know if it’s workable and help you work out how something may work.

Walking feet in yellow sandalsThat being said though, get out there and walk a bit. Test your abilities, see what is a comfortable place to start for yourself. Once you know roughly what you can handle, both time and distance, than sit down and plan each week’s walks. I started with a mile a day for lent, and I’ve kept to that even after lent is over. Get a route figured out, and set aside a time each day for walking.

Time – For me, that time was 5:30am. It got it out of the way (because if I did it later, I’d put it off), and there was no one else watching me. If you’re like me, you avoid gyms because it feels like everyone is watching you sweat. While that’s completely not true (everyone is pretty much thinking that), it is still enough to stop me from hitting up the treadmills, even in winter. Early in the morning is a time of empty streets.

Clothing – This is more important than you might guess. My recommendation is to choose some jogging pants and a comfortable shirt to see how that goes when it starts. It depends a lot on the temperature. For me, I started in the middle of winter with some 40 below days, so heat rash was never something I had to deal with. Once things got warmer, though, then chub rub became my biggest enemy. I solved that with boxers instead of briefs, but while walking you may find something that works better for you (or use some of the suggestions from those articles)…that will help you stay active without getting out of the habit!

A good pair of shoesShoes – To tell the truth, I’ve always had the same style of shoes from New Balance. I think they’re cross trainers? I have no idea. All I know is that they work for me for walking and for standing long periods of time. Shoe salesfolk will likely try to sell you one thing or the other, dependent on commission. Talk with a podiatrist and get a shoe that works for you. Just remember: you may have to replace the shoes more often. Since I started walking, I’ve had to replace my shoes twice in a year. Before, I was going two years before replacement!

Fitness Trackers – The one thing that has kept me walking has been my fitbit devices. I started out with a zip (just a step tracker), but in April (as a reward for sticking to my walking for Lent every day) I graduated up to a Fitbit Charge (HR monitor, GPS, step tracker, etc.). There are others out there that I’ve seen from Garmin, Nike, Samsung…heck, even my Nintendo 3DS tracks my steps! That’s great for everyone who needs some quantification of our efforts. The best thing about these tracking devices is their record keeping in whichever site/app you want to use. I use Fitbit.com (it also helps me track my meansl/calorie intake), but there are others like Myfitnesspal.com and apps such as Fitocracy. It’s helpful at the end of the week to see the numbers add up, and if you missed goals, to renew your drive for the coming days. It helps stick to the walking regimen, and keeps you aware of where you are on the daily.

Downsides to Walking

Blisters – Let’s be honest: you’re likely going to be walking more than you did before. Check out how to get rid of blisters if you’ve got some, and to get some advice to prevent them from starting when you’re walking. I had to buy new shoes when my old pair started to chafe my feet too much.

Chub rub – As mentioned above, you may have to run through some different changes of clothing for your walking. Chub rub isn’t fun, it is a burning sensation on your inner thighs. You can check out how to get rid of chub rub on that article. I had to use some gold bond powder to make it a little less painful when I got it (due to the rubbing of the elastic band on the briefs). However, it will knock you out of your walking. If that happens, take some time to heal up. Walking should be beneficial, it shouldn’t cause skin problems!

Hunger – This is something that most folks who start a regimen of walking don’t consider. I’m about 4 months into my regimen now, and about the second month it hit. I was hungry all the time. I have been able to tackle that a bit by having smaller meals and snacks throughout the day (see above advice for things like Fitbit). That’s kept the hunger at bay, and tracking that has helped my weight loss goals. Just remember that you’re walking to get healthier…and some of that health is a higher metabolism. Make sure you’re feeding it the right snacks, like almonds. We also highly recommend these almonds that Amazon sells in 4 lb bags.

Impatience/Boredom – This hits me quite often when walking: I want to lose more weight and size! Walking takes too long to do so! *whine whine.* Remember the goal here is overall health, not only weight loss. Be sure to keep that in mind when you’re worried you’re not losing weight fast enough. Also, with the “enough” idea is that you may get bored on your walks because they’re not doing enough fast enough: bring along some headphones and some thumpin’ tunes to help you out.

Good luck walking!

Just remember, the more activity your body gets, the better things will be. Most news stories on health now are focused on how much sitting is really bad for us. Getting out there for a walk will help avoid death by sitting!

It’s helped me, quite a bit. I started this year in late February, and so far I’ve lost about 15 lbs. It’s only about 3 lbs a month or so, but I tend to cheat on the old diet on occasion. I suggest walking to get started with any exercise…you may find you enjoy the time you spend enough to look up other forms. That’s not happened to me, but you never know!

Sources
Bernard, P., Ninot, G., Bernard, P.L., Picot, M.C., Jaussent, A., Tallon, G., & Blain, H. (2015, June). Effects of a six-month walking intervention on depression in inactive post-menopausal women: a randomized controlled trial.

Harvard Health Letter (2014, September). Another Benefit of Brisk Walking.

Mønness and Sjølie (2009, November). An alternative design for small-scale health experiments: does daily walking produce benefits in physical performance of school children? Child: Care, Health & Development.