Those Shoes are Made for Walking

My grandma started walking when she was 85.  She’s 92 now, and we don’t know where she is.”

Spring is springing.  The birds are starting to sing, the trees and flowers are waking up, and winter will soon be behind us once again.

It’s time to get outside.  Time to enjoy the fresh spring air, feel the sunshine again, and take in the nature outdoors.  Move your body.  Take a walk.  Take many walks.

If you are already a regular walker for exercise, give yourself a pat on the back.  This is the simplest form of exercise, and the most natural.  Our bodies are designed to move. Our legs are designed to move our bodies from one place to another by walking.   By design, we are supposed to walk.  Keep walking.

If you engage in some other form of regular exercise, you too, deserve a pat on the back.  Whatever that form of exercise is, however, consider adding a walk to it.

If you do not regularly exercise, then this is written for you.  Please consider becoming a walker.  Just think about it.

It is widely recognized in the medical community that exercise in general is a wonder drug.  It the most reliable preventive treatment for obesity, high blood pressure, depression and anxiety, heart health and helps in preventing virtually every disease.  If its benefits could be bottled and sold, it would fly off the shelves.

So why don’t more people engage in walking and other forms of exercise?  Because it is the path of most resistance, and humans want the past of least resistance.  Because it takes time and energy.  Because it takes changing habits.  All the above are hard, and humans, in general, want easy.

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Walking is the most natural, most basic, simplest form of exercise.  It doesn’t take any special equipment, except for a sturdy, well-cushioned pair of shoes, which you may already have.  It doesn’t take any special training, and it doesn’t take a gym or a membership to one.  There are no machines you must learn to use.  There are no special talents you must possess.

If you are fortunate enough to have good health that allows you to walk, then there are no reasons for not moving your legs.  Among the many reasons given by many people for not engaging in a simple form of exercises are the following:

  • “I’m tired.”
  • “I’m too busy.”
  • “I don’t feel like it.”
  • “I’m waiting for the motivation to come.”

For the purposes of this article, none of the above stated reasons will be considered legitimate reasons, and will be countered by the following:

  • “Regular exercise/walking will give you energy.”
  • “People make time for what is important to them.  Take a look at how you spend your time.  If you are in front of the television for a few hours every day, then this is important to you.”
  • “Even those who exercise regularly don’t always feel like it.  The feeling sometimes comes after you get started.”
  • “Motivation doesn’t just arrive.  The more you work toward something, the more you feel it coming.”

Special consideration is given to those with chronic pain conditions, as this is a delicate situation that is sometimes aggravated by exercise.  Working with an exercise professional who specializes in chronic pain may help to develop a plan to minimize the pain and maximize the benefits.  Discuss this option with your doctor, or conduct research online to find solutions that other people with chronic pain have discovered.

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Taking those first steps are often the hardest.  Before the first steps, however, you must make the decision to become a walker.  It starts in the mind.  Beginning with a positive mindset, telling yourself that you can and will do this, and it will make you feel better.  If you tell yourself that it’s too hard, and it won’t do any good, then you are most likely defeated before you begin.

So think positive.  Not just about becoming a walker, but about everything you do.  It makes everything easier.

Now comes the action, and the following ideas are tried-and true:

  • Enlist the help of a walking buddy.  Committing to another person to show up at a certain place at a certain time makes you accountable to someone else, which tends to make people more responsible than when they are accountable only to themselves.  It’s very easy to cancel out on yourself; not so much with someone else.
  • Start small.  The thought of walking only ten minutes is much less daunting than the thought of walking half an hour.  You can increase slowly over time, or increase when the ten minutes are up, and you feel great and want to keep walking.
  • Find a picture in a magazine of person whose shape you would like to have.  Cut it out and put it on your bathroom mirror.  Better yet, if you have a picture of yourself from an earlier time when you were in a shape you want to return to, post that where you can look at it every day.
  • Consider the time of day when you feel best and most ready to exercise.  For some people this is early in the morning.  For others, it is in the evening.  For others still, it may be over their lunch hour.  Keep in mind that if you are a coffee drinker, recent studies-and personal testimonies—show that coffee may help physically motivate you to exercise.   So if you drink coffee in the morning, consider walking in the morning.
  • Walking to music is a tremendous motivator.  Choosing your own music and loading it onto an iPod or other small device is an easy way to plug in.  If you are not adept with such technology, ask a teenager or younger person.  Most of them know how to work such a device and are thrilled to help.
  • Take your dog for a walk.  They will never refuse a walk.  If you don’t have one, try to borrow one.  Their owner likely will thank you.

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So now you are moving!  You are officially a walker, and it feels great—at least it does today.  But maybe not every day.  Keep going!  And remember not every day is going to be a great walk.  However, those days that feel the worst may produce the best results.  You may realize that on those “bad” walking days, you feel even better when you are done than you normally do.

Maybe the weather is bad.  Too hot or too cold.  Too windy, or too rainy.  Keep these ideas in mind:

  • Dress in thin layers, especially in the cold.  Removing the outer layer as you warm up keeps you comfortable.
  • Cotton traps moisture if you sweat.  Nylon fabrics help keep sweat away from your body.
  • Don’t be scared away by a light rain.  If it’s not too cold, and if there is no lightning, a walk in the rain with a lightweight raincoat can be extremely refreshing.    You won’t melt.
  • Avoid lightning and ice at all costs.  DO NOT brave these elements.  You will not win.
  • If you live in a rural area, windy days can be torture.  Consider asking a family member to drive you into the wind so that you can walk back with it at your back.  Or, since most cold winds are from the north or south, try to find an east/west path.  The wind at your side it better than the wind in your face.
  • Don’t be afraid of low temperatures, as long as the windchill is not a factor.  The cold can be extremely invigorating.

Walking is truly the simplest form of exercise.  You simply walk.  However, there are some ideas that may make it more effective:

  • Be aware of your posture.  Stand tall, spread your shoulders back and hold your head high.   Tuck your tailbone in.
  • Take longer strides.  You may need to remind yourself to stretch your legs out a bit more, because you have had your standard stride length all your life, and it is an ingrained habit.
  • The more you move your arms, the more they can help carry the rest of your body.  If you pump your arms while holding them higher, this can provide a more intense workout.

Safety should always be a paramount concern.  When walking outdoors, remember the following:

  • Be aware of your surroundings.  If a strange person or situation doesn’t feel right, trust your gut and walk the other way.
  • Take your cell phone along if possible, but only for emergencies.
  • Carry a small can of pepper spray.
  • Be aware of loose animals or wild animals.
  • Try not to walk on the street.  If you have to, face traffic and stay alert.
  • Don’t text and walk.
  • If the terrain is not smooth or unknown, be sure to visually examine the next few steps in front of you so to avoid any small holes or rocks, or anything else that may trip you up.  Look up every few moments to scan your route ahead, while still being mindful of the path at your feet.
  • If it is dusk or dark, wear reflective clothing, and take extra caution to stay away from traffic.  If it is light outside, wear brightly colored clothing.  Patterned clothing in bright colors is even better.

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Many people truly want to get out to walk, but find it next to impossible due to family obligations.  Perhaps you have a baby or small child, or you are caring for a family member who needs constant attention.  These situations make it difficult to stay committed, but these situations also call for the stress relief and good health that walking can bring.  Consider finding another person whose needs are the same, and swap caregiving, if possible.  You can do double duty for them, and in return, they will do double duty for you.  If the weather allows, and the child is old enough, pushing a stroller during a walk adds to the benefits of exercise, and the child usually loves it.

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The first steps will likely be the hardest.  Don’t think of it as a lifetime sentence.  Think of it as just for today.  The tomorrows will follow.   Just this once.  Just get out there.

Just start.