Edie and I just finished walking. We are house sitting a friend’s house in the Virginia mountains, surrounded on 3 sides by Virginia’s famous Skyline Drive. We always feel better after a brisk walk, even in the hot Summer sun.
We were in this same spectacular place last year at around the same time. Our friends had suggested we would enjoy house sitting for them while they were traveling, as a way for me to recover from open heart surgery, which had just been done a month earlier.
It was here that I really started back into an exercise program of walking, strength rebuilding and flexibility exercises. It was the walking, though, that helped me the most. We didn’t play around with the walking, but neither did we overdo it. This time, as we drove up the steep driveway to the house, I wondered out loud, “How did I manage to walk up this hill a year ago?”
But I did walk up that steep driveway last year, many times. And I did it the same way that I would suggest anybody new to exercise start a walking program. Start! Walk a little. When you get out of breath, slow down. Then as you recover your breath, pick up the pace again. Continue with on and off, fast and slow walking until, over time, you can walk for a half hour or more at a brisk pace of 3 to 4 miles per hour.
If you are new to exercise, walking is one of the very best ways to start building strength, breathing deeply, and building endurance, all rolled into one simple and enjoyable exercise.
Why is walking so good for you? OXYGEN! It builds your cardio-respiratory endurance. Walking strengthens your legs. It’s easy to set your own pace. And it’s easy to see your progress. Some suggest that the benefits of walking outweigh the benefits of running, particularly with respect to the impact that running has on your knees and legs. And some studies have shown that the cross-body effects from walking can help activate the brain and can potentially stave off Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Hospitals now require patients to get up and walk as soon as possible after most any surgical procedure. That was the first thing they made me do after surgery, and Edie had to walk from her hospital gurney to her bed immediately after her knee replacement surgery. Walking longer distances every day was the best thing I did during my recovery from heart surgery and walking on a treadmill was the first thing I did in Cardio-Rehab a couple of weeks later. I started with ten minutes of slow walking twice a day around my neighborhood, and built to two miles in a couple of weeks.
An older adult can start out with a slow walk around the neighborhood and increase it to where you can walk several miles. Once you reach a distance of several miles, you reach a “point of no return” in benefits, and you would be better served by adding in some other forms of exercise to your routine.
A good cardio walking speed is around 3 to 4 miles per hour. You certainly don’t want to start out at 4 miles per hour but it’s not unreasonable to see that kind of speed for part of your walk. At 3 miles per hour, you are walking a mile in twenty minutes. For some, a mile seems to be a long distance to start with. It’s may seem like it at first, but it won’t be long before you are walking that mile in fifteen minutes and walking for a half hour with ease.
A big question that often comes up is about the benefits of using a treadmill. Yes, many of the physical benefits of walking on a treadmill are the same as walking outside. You can adjust most treadmills to change speeds and inclines, and you can see your progress in terms of distance walked and your speed. For some, a treadmill is just fine. But, by walking outside you can add in the mental, emotional, and even the spiritual benefits (remember, the word “spirit” is derived from the Latin “Spiritus” meaning breathe). Treadmills can be expensive to buy but most gyms have them available for member’s use at a fraction of the cost of buying one.
So, if you haven’t walked as exercise for a long time, or ever, it’s time to get started. For me, early morning is the best time to walk but that’s up to you. Carry some water with you and just get out and move. You won’t want to stop.
Thank you for reading.