Walking for the health of it

Walking for the health of it

A trail with an individual walking on it, pictured from the ground.

Credit: Getty Images

You descend from a long line of walkers. Walking was a way of life for virtually all of your ancestors. Other forms of conveyance, from bicycles to jet propulsion, are, in the scheme of things, quite new to us.

This primal form of getting from one place to another is an elixir: it burns some calories, improves your heart’s health — and takes the wrinkle out of your brow.

Henry David Thoreau, the man who sheltered himself along a pond in Massachusetts and pondered his own existence, suggested the mental health benefits to the exercise, writing, “Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”

Of course, there are measurable and meaningful benefits to an exercise that most any able-bodied person can do, says Edward S. Potkanowicz, associate professor of exercise physiology at Ohio Northern University.

“Walking just 30 minutes per day, five days a week, can cut your risk for heart disease in half,” Potkanowicz says. “Walking will also reduce a person’s stress and cholesterol levels as well as their blood pressure.”

It also lowers one’s risk of stroke, Type 2 diabetes, dementia, and bone loss; reduces body fat and strengthens muscle; and even improves coordination.

A brisk walk is an aerobic endeavor, after all, and it isn’t done just by the legs. This is quite interesting: your entire body is engaged; from your neck to your ankles, your body works in rhythm. Your joints lubricate themselves. Muscles in your calves, belly, buttocks, and abdomen squeeze and push as you walk, expanding and contracting, helping push along the oxygen-rich blood in spite of gravity’s pull.

Best of all, you can do the exercise with great freedom, anytime and anywhere, even literally right out your front door. You can enliven your walks with birdsong and scenery, take in local trails at a state park or nature area, and breathe air that’s never been breathed before.

Walking is not the perfect exercise; it is, after all, rather (ahem) pedestrian. It won’t strengthen your torso, and don’t expect to lose weight strictly on a walking regimen. But it will help you to stay conditioned for other endeavors in work and in pleasure. All it takes is a pair of shoes and the gumption to go.

Craig Springer’s ancestors walked over their Muskingum County farm before heading west circa 1840. He now walks in Santa Fe County, New Mexico.