(Michael Jen is one of our NACD dads. He is a martial arts instructor, as well as a muscle balance and function facilitator. Not only does he teach others about fitness, but he “walks the walk” as well—he and his family walk 2-4 miles each day!)
Both serious athletes and fitness enthusiasts seem always to be on the lookout for the newest and most “advanced” forms of exercise or piece of equipment to enhance performance, rehabilitation, or general health. However most people tend to have forgotten the extreme importance of the simplest form of exercise- walking.
Our bodies were designed by nature to stand upright and walk on two legs. With the advancement of technology, automobiles have replaced walking. Most people would rather drive 2 minutes to get to a destination than walk. Physical labor is required by fewer occupations, especially with advancement of computers. Machines are replacing more physical household chores, and leisure-time activities that require no physical exertion or movement are becoming more popular. Studies have shown that the average American adult only walks between 3,000 – 5,000 steps a day. A greater number of steps easily can be taken in a 30-minute walk, yet that is as much as most people walk throughout an entire day.
Rather than moving throughout the day, the primary position that most people are in is sitting. The human body’s design was not based on spending over half the day sitting. The more our body does things it was not designed to do, the more our original functional design becomes altered. In fact, it can be said that your body shapes itself into the activity or position that you engage in the most. This is important to know because you must realize that is difficult for any 30-minute exercise program to completely counteract the effects of an entire day of inactivity.
Nature designed walking as the most basic and the main form of locomotion and transportation for human beings. Therefore it is essential for optimal health and function that this basic form of movement is a regular part of our daily lives. It is very simple and logical- the more we do things our bodies were naturally designed to do, the more functional our bodies become. For a body that is dysfunctional, walking can begin to guide that body back toward towards its original functional design. Also, remember that acute injuries cause or increase postural dysfunction. Therefore regardless of the type of injury or on what part of the body, walking should be a part of a person’s rehabilitation at some point. For a highly functional body, walking helps maintain that state; and the more the body remains in a highly functional state, the more difficult it becomes to be altered out of that state.
It is also extremely important to know that walking on a treadmill or elliptical machine is not the same as walking on the ground; and the use of those machines is extremely detrimental to the body in the long run. Why? Because according to the laws of physics, the treadmill or elliptical machine does not mimic any sort of movement that exists in reality. When we walk on the ground, we are pushing ourselves away from the ground. Walking on the ground works very specific muscles in a very specific way. With the treadmill, you are not pushing yourself away from the ground; you are just lifting your legs. The ground is moving away from you, which does not happen in reality. With the elliptical machine, that unnatural movement is even worse. Therefore those machines work your body and muscle groups in a way that is completely different from running or walking on the ground. As mentioned before, the more the body engages in movements it was not designed to do, the more it begins to shift away from its original functional design.
Many people tend to find every excuse not to walk. Many say they would rather run due to the fact that they tend to think they need a “workout” in order to improve their bodies. It is important to keep in mind that making your body more functional and feeling tired from a workout are two completely different things. In addition, the movement of walking is different from the movement of running. Many athletes can run for several miles, train for several hours in their particular sport, or deadlift and squat hundreds of pounds. However it is so common to see these athletes, who appear to be strong, complain about their backs or some other part of their body aching when they need to stand and walk non-stop for numerous hours.
The reason this happens is because many athletes have done those activities for so long with their dysfunctions, it has become a “normal” ingrained part of the movement in that activity. When their bodies are placed in a situation as simple as standing and walking, their dysfunctions are not accustomed to it; therefore their bodies can’t handle it, and the extent of their dysfunctions becomes glaringly obvious.
When walking, time is more important than the number of steps or distance. As mentioned earlier, sitting is the primary position most people are in today, and a person should look at how much time they spend in that position. Therefore in order to counteract the effects of the amount of time spent sitting, you must have a significant amount of time not in the sitting position. Let’s say a person can walk 1 mile in 30 minutes. However as his/her body improves, 1 mile eventually only takes that person 20 minutes. Though the distance is the same, the person is now spending less time moving and out of the sitting position. So rather than setting or increasing goals by distance, it is best to calculate it by time.
Walking is the most basic form of movement, and it important never to ignore the basics. This is essential for everyone from young children, to athletes, to senior citizens. A functional body should be able to stand and walk for hours and not feel a single bit of discomfort or pain. So if a body is incapable of doing this, attempting to skip ahead to running or any other more advanced form of body movement will only increase dysfunctions and make that body worse.