It’s not the latest exercise phenomenon, and it won’t make the cover of this month’s fitness magazines, but walking might be the most versatile and satisfying fitness option there is. Here are five reasons why:
1. It’s easy to do it right:
Many fitness options are pretty easy to mess up without a certain level of expertise/instruction. Strength training is pretty complex at first. It’s easy to injure yourself running without a lot of restraint, good technique, and the right body type. Many sports are highly reliant on excellent technique and lots of practice. Walking, on the other hand, is pretty simple: wear comfortable shoes and go walk. That’s pretty much it. There are certainly a few basic guidelines that might help, but you probably don’t need anything fancier than the above to get started. If a lack of knowledge is a roadblock in becoming more active, walking is a great place to start.
(Warning: if your physician has advised that you refrain from walking, please listen.)
2. It’s versatile:
Whether you’re extremely out of shape or a professional athlete, walking or hiking probably should be in your schedule. For those who are very deconditioned (or recovering from injury), very short, slow walks are a great way to begin the road to fitness/recovery. As folks get stronger and more conditioned to walking, longer, faster, and hillier walks should be used to help increase one’s fitness level. For those who are already very active, short strolls can be used to promote blood flow and increase recovery from harder bouts of exercise. Also, more intense, mountainous hikes/walks are a tremendous way to increase cardiovascular fitness, balance, muscular endurance, and coordination and to connect with nature all at the same time. For those who think walking is too easy, try uphill for 60 minutes at 4 miles per hour!
3. It’s functional and practical:
Unlike many forms of exercise, walking not only nets you fitness benefits, but it also is a great form of transportation. I certainly love gyms (not surprising as I own one), but it’s hard to deny the convenience and practicality of walking. With a backpack, many shorter trips (for example, to the store, to pick up the kids from school, to get coffee in the morning, etc.) can be accomplished on foot. Even if you live in an area where walking to the store is not a possibility (maybe you live in the country, miles from any conveniences), parking a mile from the store gives you a two-mile walk and saves a tiny bit of gas in the process. With walking, there’s no need to worry about parking, traffic jams, or the cost of fuel. Start with short commutes by foot, and lengthen them as you build walking fitness. And yes, it probably takes longer than driving. This might make it a challenge sometimes, but I’d assume that most days finding the time for a short walk-commute is very practical.
4. It’s primal:
One of the things that makes walking and hiking so appealing to me (since I was about two years old, at least) is that it just feels so “right.” As hokey as it may sound, walking is a way for me to connect with the history of our species and to humans around the world. Humans and human ancestors have been walking on two feet since we evolved from our quadruped beginnings. To think that modern transportation/communication technology has all but dissolved the need to walk more than a few hundred steps a day is deeply disheartening. Walking connects eons of human history in one, simple activity. Furthermore, it gets us out into the natural world even if it’s just in the city. The world is different without a pane of glass in front of it; walking reminds us of this. It also forces us out of our climate-controlled bubble and into the elements; sun, rain, cold, and wind are all important and necessary stimuli for the human animal to function properly. The human body was designed to be cold, hot, and sweaty sometimes; walking permits these benefits to be reaped. Clothing and footwear choices allow safe walking in all conditions (for those who wish to learn how to employ them), so weather is hardly an excuse.
5. It’s Jewish:
When I think about walking and its primal history, it’s hard not to connect it with Judaism. Growing up in Providence and seeing families walking to and from temple every Friday evening is a potent memory. Reading about the Jews walking through the desert while celebrating Pesach and hearing stories of long escapes on foot from concentration camps further deepen the connection. Walking is a wonderful way to connect to the struggles and triumphs of the Jewish people. It is also a great way to connect to other Jews (and non-Jews, of course) whether on Shabbat or any other time. After completing a Tough Mudder (which is basically a really hilly, muddy, long walk) this weekend with five other Jewish men, I can attest to the effectiveness of walking as a means to connect in a deep way with others!
6. It’s empowering:
Knowing you are capable of walking 15 or more miles in a day is a wonderful gift to give to yourself. Many may think a 15-mile walk is crazy, but folks of all ages around the globe do walks of a full day or more on a regular basis. Most of us ARE capable of this, and our capacity to walk should be cherished and nurtured. A few among us are not so lucky as to be able to walk, but those who cannot walk can often be pushed, pulled, and carried (in old age and infancy, too). Knowing you could walk yourself and your family out of a tough situation or through a beautiful pine forest to a mountain vista is truly an amazing thing.
Life often gets incredibly complex and stressful. Walking offers a way to de-stress and simplify. It’s easy to do, cheap, and truly meaningful. Time for a walk.