The simplest single best thing you can do for your health is get up off the couch and put one foot in front of the other. Walking is that simple best thing. We all know how to walk, yet few of us do it, preferring to drive that 3 blocks to the ice cream shop instead of walk. But walking, like running
, even short walks can leave you feeling energized, more focused, happier, can improve your overall health, and even makes you younger. Yes, in as little as 90 days, the age-reduction effects of walking can actually be measured. It allows you to talk with friends along the way and even meet new people. While walking alone, you can use the time to think of solutions to problems, listen to that audio book, learn a language, or just get familiar with your neighborhood.
No matter where you live, there’s a place you can go walking. It may be park trail, a school track, along the beach, a sidewalk around the town, your own backyard, back and forth down a long hallway, or the local mall. Wherever people are allowed to be, you can walk there.
And walking has the highest compliance rate of any prescribed exercise because it is so easy to do anywhere, and requires no training or special equipment. You can even walk barefoot, though most people do wear walking shoes to prevent injury.
Lately, research has been paying attention to taking 10,000 steps of walking, jogging, or running per day. A 40-minute, two-mile walk will cover half of those steps, while the everyday routines can generally fill in the other half. Surprised? Wear a pedometer, and see for yourself how much walking you do just by being you.
In terms of actual measurements, moderate walking is defined as an average of 100 steps per minute. 150 minutes of moderate-intensity walking during the week (or just 30 minutes a day for 5 days) helps manage stress, prevents heart disease and gives you a lot of the benefits listed below. Researchers at San Diego State University suggest aiming for 1,000 steps in 10 minutes, and working up to 3,000 steps in 30 minutes or more.
The list of benefits below are only a handful of what walking can offer and when you make it a regular habit, the rewards are long-term.
One interesting aspect about regular walking is that older adults are at an increased risk of falling, so backward walking, sideways walking, heel walking, and toe walking may be beneficial for balance and muscular stability.
Yes, you can walk backwards!
Also known as “retro walking” or “backward walking”, walking backwards for exercise originated in ancient China and is all the rage in Japan and some parts of Europe now. It increases the heart rate by 17% to 20% when compared to walking forward at the same speed. It is claimed to burn 30% more calories.
Because walking backwards eliminates the usual heel-strike when the foot hits the ground and lets the toes contact the ground first, it can cause changes in pelvic alignment that help open up joints in your spine that potentially alleviate the pressure cause low back pain in some people. This also puts less pressure on the knees and ankles, also, and can be beneficial for post-surgical knee joint rehabilitation, sprained ankles, Achilles tendon tears or shin splints. People with pain who have tried everything from ibuprofen, ice or heat treatments, time off from training, physical therapy or stretching without results may benefit from walking backwards.
To see if walking backwards may be useful to you, just take 10 steps forward and nine steps back and check for discomfort. Then find a flat area that is free of obstacles and walk backwards for about 20 to 30 yards. With practice you can try walking backwards up a small hill. If you are outside though, beware of uneven pavement, and other obstacles you can’t see. Better yet, walk with a friend who is walking forward, and switch direction periodically to watch out for each other.
You can also walk backwards using a treadmill, but use a slower speed such as one mile per hour, and stay alert to the emergency stop button. Only increase your speed and incline when you feel comfortable. Another useful trick is to use a backward motion when using an elliptical machine.
If you walk backward for any length of time your shoes will get more wear and need to be replaced more often, since you are landing on sections of the sole that were not designed to take high amounts of wear.
NOTE: No matter which direction you choose, do not go for a walk immediately after a meal because this makes it difficult for the body to absorb the nutrients from the food. That is the reason for the old adage “wait an hour after eating before going swimming” and it applies to all physical activities.
Health Benefits of Walking Backwards
Walking backwards sharpens your thought processes and enhances cognitive control because it is also a “neurobic” activity, meaning it requires brain activity and may help you keep mentally sharp. Since you are moving in an unfamiliar way, it puts your senses into overdrive, and is also known to enhance vision, especially peripheral vision, as well as hearing.
Walking backwards allows you to work all the leg muscles, such as the quadriceps and calves, which usually are not worked as much as the hamstrings and glutes when walking forward. It also works the hamstrings in a different way, and just 10-15 minutes, four days a week for four weeks has been shown to increase hamstring flexibility.
By the way, walking up stairs is the best form of walking when trying to burn extra calories, and the second best way is walking backwards.