Exercise is a prescription like no other. It can protect your joints; prevent falls, premature death, cardiovascular disease, ischemic stroke, type 2 diabetes, some colon and breast cancers, and even depression (Carlson et al., 2015). Millions of annual deaths could be averted by early intervention and proactive use of physical activity (Sundberg, 2016). In older adults its proper use could result in significant savings in healthcare spending within 2 years of commencing it (Martinson et al., 2003) , and in our youngest it can produce transformational changes in fitness levels, mental, social, emotional health and well-being (Murray et al., 2016). But gym memberships are not needed, we don’t need to run marathons or complete ironman triathlons to get a significant health improvement. Instead we just need to walk!
But modern living doesn’t tolerate walking. It’s too slow, we drive to work, we drive to the shops and we drive to school. We even drive to the gym to go walk on a treadmill! We drive because our towns haven’t been developed with pedestrians in mind, so it isn’t always safe to walk. The creation of appropriate environments through increased collaborations between the fields of public health and urban planning may encourage people to incorporate walking for transportation into their everyday lives (Hirsch et al., 2014). But if we are honest, we drive because we no longer have to walk. We are lazy. Walking – real walking, for more than twenty or thirty minutes at a time – has become an elective activity rather than a feasible form of transport. Vehicles, machines and technology now do our moving for us. Our leisure time activities don’t come close to making up for what we’ve lost. Exercise and more importantly movement has now become optional.
Walking is a rhythmic, dynamic, aerobic activity which uses the large skeletal muscles resulting in huge benefits minimal adverse effects. Walking at a brisk pace (3-4mph) regularly in sufficient quantity into the ‘training zone’ of 70% of maximal heart rate develops and sustains physical fitness. The muscles of the legs and lower trunk are strengthened, the flexibility of joints preserved and posture and carriage may even improve. Walking is also the most common weight-bearing activity, and therefore contributes at all ages to an increase in related bone strength at all ages (Morris & Hardman, 1997; Murtagh et al., 2002). We spend much of our time incarcerated, enclosed in vehicles, shuttling from one place to the next – sometimes without even glancing up from a handheld screen. We panic at the thought loosing mobile phone coverage (Lougheed, 2008). We spend less time outside than our parents and grandparents did. There has been a fundamental shift away from nature to sedentary activities involving electronic media (Pergams & Zaradic, 2006), The move away from traditional outdoor activity like climbing trees, ropes and walls has been justified by the time we spend in gyms where our exercise has become so manicured, scheduled, planned and intense. It’s clean and bleached, timed and measured. But it’s not working. We are fat, and we are getting fatter. Ireland will be the fattest country in Europe by 2025. So we don’t need to run a marathon or cycle around Ireland if we don’t want to. Maybe sometimes we just need to do the simple thing …… and walk.
Carlson SA, Fulton JE, Pratt M, Yang Z & Adams EK. (2015). Inadequate physical activity and health care expenditures in the United States. Prog Cardiovasc Dis 57, 315-323.
Hirsch JA, Moore KA, Clarke PJ, Rodriguez DA, Evenson KR, Brines SJ, Zagorski MA & Diez Roux AV. (2014). Changes in the Built Environment and Changes in the Amount of Walking Over Time: Longitudinal Results From the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis. American Journal of Epidemiology 180, 799-809.
Lougheed T. (2008). Wild child: guiding the young back to nature. Environ Health Perspect 116, A436-439.
Martinson BC, Crain AL, Pronk NP, O’Connor PJ & Maciosek MV. (2003). Changes in physical activity and short-term changes in health care charges: a prospective cohort study of older adults. Prev Med 37, 319-326.
Morris JN & Hardman AE. (1997). Walking to health. Sports Med 23, 306-332.
Murray A, Calderwood C, O’Connor N & Mutrie N. (2016). Scotland’s progress in putting policy about physical activity into practice. Br J Sports Med 50, 320-321.
Murtagh EM, Boreham CA & Murphy MH. (2002). Speed and exercise intensity of recreational walkers. Prev Med 35, 397-400.
Pergams OR & Zaradic PA. (2006). Is love of nature in the US becoming love of electronic media? 16-year downtrend in national park visits explained by watching movies, playing video games, internet use, and oil prices. J Environ Manage 80, 387-393.
Sundberg CJ. (2016). Physical activity: what is already being done and how we can avert 1 million deaths annually in future. Br J Sports Med 50, 319.