The Many Benefits of Walking

by admin on March 20, 2013

I was very grateful to be asked to submit an article to the Friends of Hargate Forest Newsletter, so I thought I should also post it here.  I hope you find it useful and interesting!

I may be preaching to the converted, but for those mornings when the wind is howling and the rain is pouring, you may not feel like a walk in the forest so here are some galvanising thoughts about the benefits of walking:  

 It is one of the conversations that come up weekly in my osteopathic practice; patients often raise an intention to increase their fitness and ask what they should be doing. Often they expect me to suggest something punishing and punitive. In fact I often suggest walking. It is sustainable, enjoyable and effective in improving health in many ways.

 There are a bewildering list of benefits found in research including  reduced risk of stroke, helping recovery from breast cancer, easing fibromyalgia pain, getting off medication,  saving on gym costs, lengthening life span, staving off osteoporosis and more. It is also considered as beneficial as high intensity exercise.

 The World Health Organisation is at pain to point out that 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week is a legitimate alternative to a shorter period of high intensity exercise (this refers to the 18 to 64 year old age group).

 What’s more, it is safe for virtually everybody. In my research it has come up as a very low risk option for patients with osteoarthritis. Because walking is repetitive and low impact in nature it helps the muscular integrity of osteoarthritic joints, stabilising them and improving the health of the joints. Walking on varied levels and textures of the ground in the forest takes the joints through a greater range of movement than just walking on flat paths which is what the cartilage craves to keep it healthy.

 The gentle rhythmic movement of walking is an excellent way of building and maintaining fitness because as the calf muscle contracts from the movement, it acts as a powerful pump which increases the return blood flow to the heart.

 For those with a heart condition, walking within your limits is easy to gauge; simply feel your pulse at your wrist and count the beats per minute.   220 for men (or 226 for women) minus your age will give you your maximal heart rate and you should be aiming for 50% of this.

 For those less number oriented, research has shown that feeling pleasantly out of breath is actually a good indicator of a beneficial heart rate for training. It should still be comfortable to hold a conversation.

 It’s also worth pointing out that if you do a lot more than you are used to doing, you could get Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (more about DOMS on my website) so do ease yourself in!

 Finally, don’t forget the enormous sense of wellness that comes with “communing with the trees” as one of my fellow dog walkers put it. Breathe in the air…it mobilises the ribs, diaphragm and hips, which has a huge benefit for the lower back and is a very efficient way of switching our nervous system from the “fight or flight” mode and back onto the restorative and digestive mode which is a cornerstone of a healthy, happy, balanced life.

 If you have enjoyed this article, please come and see me at my practice opposite the lower gate to the Hargate Forest – call to book in 01892 526 456.

 Hope to see you in the forest!  Best wishes, Katharine Dabner, Osteopath.

References Rodale.com, Journal; Clinical Biomechanics , Mayoclinic.com

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