Walk more? Really? Why Bother?
So here’s the thing: I was a cardio girl: Aerobics, Step, Aqua, HIIT, Running… you name it, I did it and often taught it too. Now I aim to walk more. The rest, not so much.
I discovered the benefits and the love of regular, and to be honest, any exercise, when I was 31. Having just started working at the Leeds General Infirmary I was given a free staff gym membership as part of my job. I only joined because I had turned 30 and though it was high time I did some exercise.
It proved to be something of a damascene conversion from which I have never really looked back. That was 1998 and by 2000 I was a qualified PT. I never pursued a career in Personal Training because I couldn’t see how to make a go of it, starting from scratch, at that point.
Since then I have been running, doing cardio at the Gym, and had a 16 year stint of teaching low and high impact cardio classes.
Nearly 5 years ago I bought my first ever bike. That was another game changer. It was only at that point, at 49, that I realised that I really love cycling. Better late than never eh!
In all of that time I have considered walking to be, well, a bit boring. OK for getting from A to B (although I’d rather use my bike) but no use for anything else in particular. I took the view that it didn’t keep me fit enough, didn’t do anything for my heart and circulation and was just too darn slow
So Why Have I Changed My Mind? Why do I now walk more?
My thoughts on this are 17 years in the making, which is the time I’ve been qualified to teach Pilates. Who knows how this view might evolve in the next decade but basically:
I have shifted from a pro exercise stance, to a pro movement stance
This statement is more radical than it first seems. More and more I’m coming around to the view that we in the UK are too sedentary and exercise isn’t necessarily the answer.
One or Two hours per week of exercise does not compensate for a day or a week of inactivity. The only thing that really compensates for that is to be active.
What is the best, easiest most human way of being active: Walking
I am really swimming against the tide here aren’t I. Exercise is touted as the solution to many things: weight loss, weight management, helping Type 2 Diabetes, preventing or easing mild to moderate mental health conditions, keeping the heart healthy. The list goes on
To be clear: I am not criticising exercise. Exercise is great. It just isn’t the solution to our inactive lives. Not being inactive is the solution to that
What’s so really great about walking?
- It is free and most people can do it. I totally understand that not everyone can. I know how miserable it is to read an article extoling the virtues of something that you can’t ever have or do. For that I apologise. I know that I will be hurting your feelings or this could be triggering It is one of the reasons that for many years now I have taught Chair Based Exercise (and there is more on this here : https://www.pilates-leeds.com/chair-based-pilates-theres-more-to-it-than-meets-the-floor/) although the Covid Pandemic has has meant I have not taught in well over a year
- It is full body exercise. Not convinced? Well, the prime mover muscles are the calves, the back of the legs and the buttocks. Other buttock muscles stabilise the trunk as you walk. To be held upright you need your back muscles , the back of the shoulders to “hold” you in relative spine extension, that is standing tall. As you move your legs alternatively forward there is a reciprocal movement in the arms so the back of your arm, top of the arm help to drive you forwards. Left to their own devices, that is without being pulled, sucked or beaten into submission by Spanx knickers, the abdominals will work in tandem with your back muscles to support the trunk.
- it is relative risk free and unlikely to cause injury
- in lives spent gazing at the phone with the almost inevitable tendency to shift the head forwards, focus the gaze down and possibly curve the spine, walking places us back into relative extension: standing tall with, (ideally) the head on top of the body and the eyes relaxing into a new place: gazing forwards into the distance
There is plenty of other reasons to walk more like looking at flowers, meeting folks and a powerful environmental argument regarding avoiding our cars or taxis
Perhaps our high octane busy lives need a moment of movement based gentleness where we are usefully active, have the opportunity to stand up, breathe.
In short, walking is beneficial to our body and I am very persuaded by its democratic qualities
I have extolled the virtues of walking in a previous blog post here: https://www.pilates-leeds.com/walking-back-to-happiness/
What’s so really un-great about exercise?
I don’t think exercise is bad, simply that society needs something completely universal and open to all so that we can all become more healthy. Ideally we need to have walking front and centre stage for everyone and exercise as something a little more niche for certain groups of people.
Exercise is not inclusive. Our society will be healthier if we can all move more and the value of walking needs to be front and centre stage because most bodies can manage it
Taking exercise in a gym or swimming pool is potentially expensive or, too expensive for some.
In some areas, gyms are simply unavailable
You might think that running is available everywhere but as the tragic death of Sarah Everard has highlighted, people, and specifically women don’t necessarily feel safe to run just anywhere
People think it isn’t for them. This is affected by gender, culture, age, size.
Individuals feel nervous, unhappy, anxious. For example fat activists have written a great deal about the anti fat culture of gyms and the staring and name calling of fat people in gyms.
People get put off because they have engaged in a regime for which their body was not ready. Solution is perhaps a pre exercise regime and I would count my Pilates classes as ticking that box
Mostly I am pro walking because it is almost universal, democratic rather then being anti exercise
Is Exercise ever Bad?
Exercise isn’t bad. However, bad exercise is bad. By that I mean poorly executed, dreadful exercise that utterly fails to achieve its goal and is likely to lead to injury, pain, discomfort. As a regular gym user I see things that I find so distressing I cannot even bear to look. As a qualified gym instructor, I know my stuff and what I see is in the gym is pretty dreadful.
There’s something here about our collective lack of respect for the body. We assume that we can “just do it”, meaning anything from high end weight training or a 5k run to flow Yoga. However, we wouldn’t make it up if it was a recipe or learning to drive or doing DIY. Why do we assume that exercise is a matter of discipline and not of knowledge? This has a profound fall out for the industry. Instructors are not paid very well because our skills are not valued
What about my Cardiovascular function?
I used to worry about this and think: My heart won’t be healthy if I don’t exercise to the point of breathlessness three times per week
Working the heart to the point that you are breathless is a good idea for most people and I still do it regularly. However, the circulation needs the assist of the body being moved regularly. The heart can’t manage on it’s own it needs help. This is such a big deal I am going to repeat myself:
The heart can’t manage all the blood circulation on its own. It needs body movement and overall muscle contraction to help push the blood fully around the body and bring it back again. I’m not just talking about the valves in the veins stopping back flow of blood, I’m talking about general muscle action
You can do intense cardio but it still doesn’t entirely compensate for long periods of inactivity. Only not being inactive does that. Walk more and you help your heart and circulation
What’s wrong with the bike?
After all it ticks the boxes regarding the environment and you get from A to B more efficiently
I love my bike and in truth I prefer cycling to walking. I’d rather sail past the flowers at speed than saunter past them on the path. But here’s the thing: it fails to supply a couple of things. The first is bone density in the thighs. They are not loaded via contact with the floor as they are in walking. The second is alignment. The body is not in its optimum alignment: tall and erect. It is hinged at the knee and hip and for some there is even curve through the spine, although that is not meant to be there.
For me now, the bike is a car alternative. Walking is the daily movement medicine
In What Ways Have I Not Changed?
I’m not injured, nor am I unable to exercise
For a while now I have been thoroughly and completely post menopausal but that hasn’t really made a difference to how I feel
My aim is to run once a week, for variety.
I still cycle a lot but largely in order to get from A to B and A again. As an aside, as I have tended to do less cardio exercise I have maintained my fitness and this is due to cycling.
So I still love Cardio and if you asked me to join you doing HiiT or Body Attack I’d happily say yes
Until 12 years ago I used to walk loads because I couldn’t drive. I passed my test in my 40s and then due to work commitments ended up driving a lot. I used to walk more, then I drove more, then I cycled more, now I aim to walk more again.
Where to walk in Leeds
If you are interested in guided, sociable walks in Leeds here are some useful links: https://www.meetup.com/topics/walkers/gb/45/leeds/
The Ramblers Association has info specifically on Leeds: https://www.ramblers.org.uk/leeds
Leeds hosts Nordic walking which is a specialised form of walking with poles to assist. It is particularly good if you have knee issues because it reduces the stress and load on the knees. The local group has a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/leedsnordicwalking/
This website lists wheelchair inclusive walks and mentions Temple Newsome, Roundhay, Kirkstall Abbey, and Lotherton Hall https://www.euanzzsguide.com/reviews/england/west-yorkshire/leeds/