Are you getting the most out of your walk? Read on to see how I use my walks for mental and physical health. I always feel better when I get out in nature is restorative. Living with the progression of RA (rheumatoid arthritis) for forty-four years means that walking (and swimming) are two activities I can still do. Some days are better than others, due to the mercurial nature of RA.
Walking Throughout My Life
Walking has always been a part of my life, which I can attribute to good role models. My mom would put my sister in a stroller and the three of us would walk 3.5 km to the store, then home again. My grandmother, who was in her late 70s, would walk about a kilometer downhill to the grocery store, then back up the big hill with her bags of groceries. She usually did that daily, unless there was a severe snowstorm or it was raining heavily.
Whether I lived in Northwestern Ontario or Northern Manitoba, where inclement weather was not unheard of, I walked. The important thing is to dress for the weather. Even here, where our winters are typically wet, I'm prepared: gor-tex jacket and shoes anf rain pants.
One of the reasons I loved having dogs was because on a rare day when I was feeling unmotivated or lazy, a dog would get me outside. Rain, sleet or snow!
I'm also a swimmer. However, when the pool closed during the pandemic I launched my walking projects: OND, OWR, OT and OL. After I completed OL, I chose to walk around the neighbourhood or revisit some favourite locations in North Delta. I also made a few forays into Panorama Ridge and Boundary Park.
There is an allure to walking new neighbourhoods. So, I have begun ONW (Operation New Westminster). Yes, I know I said that those four projects were enough!
Start at a Young Age
If you're a parent, cultivate the love of walking/hiking at a young age, like my mom did. It's a budget-friendly activity that can carry you well into old age. Nor does it require a lot of specialized equipment.
Walking is good for the environment, too. Find ways to leave the car at home and walk to your destination, instead. Use a backpack for those smaller shopping trips to the store.
— Marianna Paulson (@AuntieStress) November 21, 2021
Unfortunately, the walking school bus idea hasn't caught on in the schools in my neighbourhood. What about yours?
It can help prevent osteoporosis and bone fractures later in life. Unfortunately, diseases like RA and their treatments can work against those good bone-building habits. However, it doesn't mean you give up on including weight-bearing exercise in your life.
"Osteoporosis, the disease that causes bones to become less dense and more prone to fractures, has been called “a childhood disease with old age consequences,” because the bone mass attained in childhood and adolescence is an important determinant of lifelong skeletal health. The health habits your kids are forming now can make, or literally break, their bones as they age." - Kids and Their Bones: A Guide for Parents
I've had some very bad falls, usually while dog walking. I often think that the school curriculum should teach people how to fall. It's an especially valuable life skill. I certainly would have benefited from that.
In high school, we had a substitute teacher who taught us judo for one day. It was how to fall, the judo way. Obviously, based on my experience, I needed more than one lesson!
What Can You Do Now?
So maybe judo, or the other martial arts, is not your thing. There are other practices you can do that will help to keep you upright and if you do fall, to minimize the damage.
The Feldenkrais Method
Recently, Vita Kolodny, who is a Feldenkrais practitioner, shared this "grounding" experience on her blog: The Power Of Feldenkrais, Experienced First-Hand – Twice!
On Posture, Proprioception and Psoas, I share some of my gravity-defying exercises:
"I find Essentrics and qigong to be beneficial, especially the exercises that challenge and guide me to improving my balance, such as these two: Essentrics and qigong. Remember that it is a work in progress."
The Alexander Technique
While exploring somatic and movement techniques, I came across this description of The Alexander Technique. It is quite common for actors to use this to help them with their performance.
When I walk, I keep the principles Elia mentions in mind.
Before doing The Alexander Technique, check out this list of risks and limitations.
The Franklin Method
In this video, Eric Franklin shows you how your diaphragm functions by using a sponge and a chamois. He then goes on to instruct you on how to use your core effectively throughout movement. Are you doing this while you walk?
Look to the Horizon While Walking
By gradually changing the way I walk, I've learned to put more trust in my feet. More often than not, I would walk looking down at the ground. I didn't want to fall. Now, I tend to look to the horizon more frequently. I take quick glances to the ground to see if there is anything that could trip me up and send me sprawling.
When you look to the horizon, you get the benefit of using your head...to build bone density. The human head weighs 4.5 to 5 kg (10-11 lbs.) on average. When your head is centered over your spine, it's a sneaky way to add weight to increase your bone density.
But, there's another benefit derived from looking to the horizon. It increases panorama vision, which can help calm your nervous system. That partially explains why my walking projects helped to keep me sane during the height of pandemic closures.
Now, put down your devices (after you watch these videos, of course), then go for a walk and see how much better you feel!
Always check with your healthcare provider to see what is appropriate for you in terms of exercise.