Walking makes for a long life

He always wanted it ground in front of him with the perfect proportions of chicory and coffee seeds. He would walk 4 kms to get only 200 gms of coffee powder twice a week from a specialty coffee store. He believed the aroma will be lost in 2 to 3 days. He preferred to walk. Apart from this walk twice a week, his day begins with a stroll in our forty acre residential enclave in the morning, a mid afternoon walk, and another stroll in the evening, before retiring for the day for a gossip with his friends under our famous tree by the lake. Walking and being active was something which set him apart from his peers. He always found a reason to walk, whether it is to get coffee, vegetables or some fresh snacks for the kids. I have to admit, he lived a happy, healthy life till his last days. Everyone in our enclave remember him to this day, as the man, always happy, active and seen walking in some part of the day, everyday. 

Studies have shown that from the age of one when an infant begins to walk, upright gait  and mechanics of movements are as important for development as respiration and digestion. Human body is wired for being active. Studies comparing heart attack rates in London bus drivers who were more sedentary compared to bus conductors who walked up and down the aisles issuing tickets showed fewer heart attacks in conductors. 


How does walking help? 

Walking can be considered as a consistent lifelong activity providing you with training benefits of aerobic conditioning. A person sitting quietly expends a certain amount of energy for the maintenance of bodily functions. When an individual begins to exercise or do fitness walks, the muscles call for dramatic increase in energy. There is an increased demand for oxygen and the blood cells carry more oxygen to the exercising muscles for energy production. Some adaptations begin to occur in the body to accommodate the increased demand during exercise. First, the heart’s ability to pump oxygenated blood improves and second,the ability of the exercising muscles to extract the oxygen present in the blood also improves. These two physiological processes begin to prepare our body and is called conditioning or getting in to shape. 


Let’s get into the specifics of distance, time, calories and why one should use walking as a form of physical exercise. 


In one of the studies undertaken in 1986 in Harvard University and published in New England journal, which compared the number of city blocks walked each week, number of stairs climbed and the number of hours walked per week. Investigators found that men who expended between 500 to 3000 kilocalories a week in physical activity were significantly less likely to suffer from heart attack than their sedentary counterparts. One hour of vigorous activity was defined as equal to 500 kilocalories burnt. The kilocalories burnt can vary with the intensity of the physical activity. 


Another very important concept one needs to understand is that of Target heart rate. Target heart rate is the heart rate zone in which one achieves the greatest aerobic training benefits.

Target heart rate zone usually extends from 60 to 80% of the predicted maximum heart rate. Maximum heart rate is calculated by subtracting one’s age in years from 220. So the Target heart rate should be between 0.6 times the maximum heart rate and 0.8 times the maximum heart rate. For ex - For a 45 year old the maximum heart rate will be 220 - 45 = 175  and so the target heart rate training zone will be 175x0.6 = 105 and 175x0.8 = 140  


In walking research laboratories, studies show that on an average an individual needed to walk at 6.4 km an hour to achieve a heart rate in the target heart rate training zone. An average person usually walks at 4.8 kms per hour when going about with normal daily activities. So one needs to increase the walking speed by another 25% to derive the aerobic training benefits. 

Thus “Fitness walking” is the term used to describe walking with a speed fast enough to elevate the heart rate into the training zone. 


Benefits of walking

  1. Walking is particularly beneficial in weight loss. An average person weighing 68 kgs who engages in a fitness walking program, walking 45 minutes a day four times a week throughout the year and does not increase the food intake will lose 8 kilograms over the course of the year. It is also thought that including an exercise regimen in weight loss program, helps to preserve the lean body mass, while fat will selectively be lost. While dieting alone can lead to loss of both muscle and fat.
  2. Individuals who are active throughout their lives appear to experience much slower decline in cardiovascular endurance than their sedentary peers. In other words they age gracefully


My father in law, would always say, “why do you need to go to the gym, just walk. Just find a reason to walk. Walking costs virtually nothing, does not require gym fees or any equipment. You just need to make up your mind and adhere to it ”


I have made up my mind to stick to my walking schedule. How about you? Find a walking friend. Walking, potentially offers the best of both worlds: a good dose of regular exercise and time to have fun and build friendships with others and keep you motivated.