Want Longevity? Start Walking.
It may not be as flashy as spin class or as hard core as running, but according to a growing body of evidence, when done properly, walking can deliver health benefits equal to or greater than more rigorous exercise regimens. In fact, a recent study showed walking briskly for just 1–2.5 hours a week can lower your risk of death by a whopping 25 percent.
There’s quite the laundry list of ways walking improves health, including strengthening the heart and lungs, improving muscle strength, decreasing the risk of heart disease, osteoporosis and diabetes, and boosting energy. “Walking is also the best medicine for achy backs,” says Judy Heller, a fitness and walking coach and master race walker. Heller helps her clients take better control of their health, and walking is often the first line of defense.
Just because we all learned to do it as very young children doesn’t mean that when we lace up our sneakers and head out on a walk we are doing it right. “I teach clients how to walk more dynamically—how to use more muscle mass, burn more calories and support their joints,” says Heller.
To figure out your best walking posture, Heller recommends checking yourself in the mirror. “When your arms are at your sides, where are your hands? If you see the backs of them, roll your shoulders back and down until your hands are parallel to your body,” she says. Stand tall and look straight ahead.
Once you get going, walk at a pace that feels fluid. Land on each heel and roll through. Let your arms swing from the shoulders, either with arms hanging down or at a 90-degree angle. “You don’t need to swing your arms out in front of your body; the swing should be more toward the back,” says Heller.
How Hard and How Often?
As far as how hard to push yourself, Heller jokes that if you can sing, you aren’t going fast enough, but only being able to converse in one-word answers is likely too hard. Focus on your breath and adjust so that nothing hurts.
Consistency is what will deliver the most benefits when it comes to walking. Shoot for 30 minutes most days of the week, but that can be broken up into smaller increments if your schedule or fitness level demands it. “I had a client that started just going to the end of the driveway and back,” says Heller. “After a while it was to the next driveway, and eventually it led to blocks and then miles. Just start where you are and build as you get stronger,” she says. The same as you did when you first learned to walk.