You spend a lifetime in your body, so why not enjoy it? Now, some consider their body simply as a vehicle to transport their head from point A to point B. Others are quite focused on and interested in engaging and using their body. Obviously, some activities, like sex, are very body-centric. That said, a happy body means a better sex life – and vice versa.
Beyond sex exists the practical matter of relying on our body to get around and help manage our life. After sleeping, sitting, and standing, walking represents the next level of activity for the body. We certainly don’t walk as much as we used to in a given day. Paradoxically, we often plan to “go for a walk” as a way of getting some activity and breaking up the routine – sort of like we walk ourselves now instead of just the dog.
Your walk, like your talk, proves unique to each of us – involving the same pace, length of stride, arm movements, etc. And while walking gets proper accolades for being a beneficial activity, that’s true… to a point. But the challenge associated with walking reflects the problem in virtually everything you do with your body today – more repetitive movement.
Those whose lives revolve around technology (that doesn’t leave out many people, does it?) will recognize that movement itself becomes less necessary and mostly repetitive. Yet, what your body longs for, besides a fantastic vacation, is random or non-habitual movement, free and unstructured, like that of a child. Think loose and fluid. Nimble. Agile. Variety does spice up your life and your body appreciates that. The outcome: extending the prime of life longer with more physical freedom, less pain, and greater agility.
So let’s apply variety to that noble activity known as walking. Incorporating random movement greatly enhances all the benefits of walking. This starts with varying your stride and pace. Alternate shorter strides with longer ones. By doing so, you will challenge the muscles and joints of your legs more thoroughly and completely. Consider varying your pace by bending your knees a bit more – as if marching. And it doesn’t have to be real obvious. Simply raising your leg an inch or two more than normal do will result in all kinds of productive brain and body interaction.
Notice the difference between walking on flat surfaces versus traversing up and down hills of various grades. Steeper grades take more effort, but also require the body to adapt and use muscles and joints in more functional ways to maintain balance and coordination. This demonstrates why hiking is so beneficial – the terrain goes up and down and you primarily walk on uneven surfaces, causing your feet and ankles – and legs for that matter – to be more fully utilized. But you can get the same benefits, same results walking on flat, even surfaces by simply varying the movement.
So taking it one step further (pun intended), look down at the angle of your feet as you normally walk. Now, point your toes inward slightly or pigeon toe them as you walk. Next, do the opposite and simply point your toes further outward as you walk. This puts your hips through more range of motion, which results in more bonus points for you. If you can carry on a conversation with your walking partner, then you are truly multitasking effectively.
I routinely train both athletes and fitness enthusiasts by having them walk sideways, backwards, march, skip, or hop: anything but the same relentless stride and pace. Doing so enhances neuromuscular activity, balance and coordination, and puts you in present time. Ultimately, walking with variations provides a great way to get focused and connect your mind and body together in a safe and sustainable way. You might call the experience “fun” and congratulate yourself for being pro-active. So next time you “walk this way,” a la Aerosmith, remember to mix it up.