Walking is primal fitness. Why? From prehistoric times until the 20th century, when the automobile changed our behavior, we humans were spending much of our waking hours walking to hunt, gather and find shelter. How we store the energy from food in our bodies is a direct link to this adaptation to meander the earth for creature comforts.
We store lots of fat. In fact, we all store aabout 100,000 calories of fat for use as fuel for survival in times of need. And not just in our bellies! We store fat in our blood, bones, muscles and nervous system in the form of triglycerides, which break down for energy production. These fat stores allowed our ancestors to walk for miles on end without the need to constantly eat food to replenish calories for energy. The stored body fat supplied the much needed energy while we hunted, foraged and roamed.
In addition to its primal roots as a great fat burner, walking is a safe exercise that we can all do no matter our fitness level or athletic ability. Plus it’s cost effective, as it requires no gym membership or equipment other than a good pair of walking shoes. And no need to drive anywhere, either. Just walk in your neighborhood and take in the beauty of your surroundings.
Why else should you be walking everyday? Here’s a list of the big health benefits garnered from taking on nature’s fitness.
1) Walking is an excellent form of aerobic activity that increases circulation throughout the body, making the heart and blood vessels stronger.
2) Walking can stave off diseases such as hypertension, osteoarthritis, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and some cancers due to sedentary lifestyle.
3) Walking is easy on the joints, especially the knees and the spine. It actually makes the joints stronger by increasing bone density and muscle tone.
4) Walking makes our poor neglected feet stronger. Forget focusing only on your 6-pack abs. How about exercising the 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments in the foot/ankle complex with a good walk?
5) Walking can ease low back pain. Much of our aches are from sitting all day. Walking increases strength and mobility in the hamstrings, glutes, hips and surrounding structures easing the pull on the low back due to weak and or tight muscles.
6) Walking facilitates the digestive process and helps us eliminate waste. Take a good long walk after a big meal and you won’t need the antacids.
7) Walking enhances mood and feelings of well-being. Take a walk to ease depression and calm anxiety.
8) Walking gets you out of your head. Clear up the clutter in your brain with a good walk. Home and work tasks will be much easier.
9) Walking increases energy. Take an afternoon walk instead of buying a latte to get through the rest of your day.
Unfortunately, life in LA is not made for walking. With daily activities that can take us from the Valley to the Southbay or downtown to Santa Monica, we often neglect using our legs for modern day hunting and gathering other than pressing the gas pedal. Because of this, you may need to proactively set aside time to take a walk by getting up earlier, using your lunch hour or walking after dinner instead of plopping on the couch to watch reruns. Having a walking buddy will definitely increase your chances of keeping to your commitment as will mapping out a set mileage route.
Walk a minimum of 20 minutes a day, though ideally an hour or more will reap the most benefits. Keep it at a brisk pace, 15-17 minutes a mile. You may need to work up to this if you’re sedentary, but hang in there, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can become a champion walker. Soon your body will start craving its daily walk.
So go primal! Grab a friend and a water bottle, lace up your walking shoes and enjoy exercise the way nature intended – a good, long brisk walk under the big, beautiful sky.
Deborah Brooks, CSCS is the Owner of Everfit Body She lives in Hancock Park with her husband and two sons. She is a NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer, UCLA Certified Fitness Instructor and Precision Nutrition Coach.