Learn to Walk

Do you know how to walk? Of course, most people would say, everyone knows how to walk; it is as instinctive as breathing. The comparison is apt — just like many people breathe inefficiently, in today’s increasingly motorised world many have forgotten how to walk. If you look around, you will see that by the time people reach their fifties, they either waddle with a sideways swaying movement or have a forward shuffling gait. This unnatural way of walking pushes the spine, hip and knees out of alignment, eventually resulting in aches, pains and even degenerative arthritis.

As we grow older, we need to concentrate on maintaining a proper walking technique. Slouching, bad posture and an improper gait are avoidable pitfalls. Whenever you walk, hold your head high and the neck straight. The eyes should be focused 15-20 feet ahead, the chin held parallel to the ground, the stomach pulled in, the feet a shoulder-width apart and the arms should swing naturally at right angles (not across the body).

It is even more important to learn to walk properly as a toddler but cramped housing and an unsafe environment makes fearful parents confine children indoors. Also, early unsteady steps often result in falls, leading to bruises and bumps. Anxious parents then start carrying children or restrict them to prams. Watching television programmes seems safer and less stressful (for the caretaker) than letting tiny tots walk around.

That, however, is not the right attitude. Toddlers attempting to take their first steps need active encouragement. Hold them by the hand and make them walk alongside for around 20 minutes morning and evening. Encourage them to walk fast, run, jump and skip. This will improve muscle tone, balance, coordination as well as make them confident and sturdy. This will help them all through life.

The preparation for a healthy life in which one (barring an unforeseen event) remains active and mobile well into the nineties, should ideally begin in the twenties but it is never too late to start. Even the sixties or the eighties is not too late. These days doctors recommend an hour of aerobic activity a day. Of all the activities — jogging, walking, running swimming, dancing and sports like tennis — walking is the easiest. It does not require much training or equipment, no partner is required, and it is the least likely to cause an injury.

The intensity or speed of the walk can be varied to obtain maximum health benefits. The perception of the intensity of exercise can be misleading. This is why it is important to have an objective assessment. The “target heart rate” should be calculated from the formula 220-age. In light activity, 40 per cent of this heart rate is reached, breathing is normal, sweating is minimal and it is possible to carry on a conversation. In moderate activity, 50-70 per cent of the target heart rate is reached, breathing is rapid, sweating occurs and it is possible to speak but not sing. During vigorous activity 70-80 per cent of the target rate is reached, breathing is rapid and it is not possible to speak without pausing for breath. The intensity of exercise should be gradually built up over a period of months to the “vigorous stage” as this confers the most health benefits.

It is important to wear seamless socks (will not injure the feet) and proper footwear while walking. Slippers slap up against the heel. After many kilometres, this is likely to result in heel pain. Clothes should be loose and made out of natural or “climate controlled” material, not tight fitting synthetic and non sweat absorbing.

In 10-15 per cent of people over the age of 65, walking can result in a pain radiating down the leg or in the buttock or calf. After a period of rest, the pain disappears. This is a condition called intermittent claudication and is caused by poor blood supply to the leg muscles. It can occur in diabetes, hypertension and if cholesterol plaques block the vessels owing to elevated lipids .It can be a precursor to strokes and heart attacks. Intermittent claudication responds 250 per cent within a few months to walking for at least an hour a day with rest whenever the pain arises.

People who walk regularly get an endorphin (mood-elevating chemical) boost. The constant pounding helps calcium enter their bones making them stronger. Recent research has shown that the hippocampus (the area in the brain responsible for memory) expands by as much as 2 per cent in people who walk regularly. In sedentary elders it shrank by 1.5 per cent.

Have a clear aim, like eventually being able to walk for an hour. Make walking a habit, beginning each day with the thought “when I finish my walk,” rather than “if I walk today”. In short, walk to be fit, healthy, happy and to have a good memory.

Source : The Telegraph ( Kolkata, India)

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