What's the big deal about walking?
Turns out that walking is a pretty big deal and is vital for the function of our pelvic floor muscles. Using your own two legs to get around also has unique and widespread benefits throughout the body compared to other forms of exercise such as cycling, swimming, running and even the elliptical or stair climber.
Bone Mineral Density (preventing osteoporosis) by repetitively loading the bones of the lower body and spine in a vertical manner with vibrations from the heel striking the ground
Cardiovascular Health by recruiting every single muscle in the body from the small muscles in your feet to your core, shoulders and ribs for optimum innervation and circulation.
Weight Management as your body is able to burn more fat at moderate, rather than high intensities and heart rates
Musculoskeletal Health with a natural frequency and loading to help nourish, rather than burn through the cartilage in the knees and hips
and of course...
Pelvic Health! The action of the gluteal muscles in walking helps to stabilize the sacrum, applying the appropriate amount of tension to the pelvic floor muscles. Due to the sacrum being mobile within the pelvis, this posterior pull action of the glutes is required for the pelvic floor to perform all of their required actions, including maintaining bladder and bowel control, stopping your organs from falling out, providing core stability and preparing your body for birthing (See Too Long, Too Short or Just Right).
I am currently participating in Steptember! A fundraising campaign challenging team members to walk 10,000 steps per day for 28 days to raise money for Cerebral Palsy. Currently, most adults fall far short of the recommended 10,000 steps per day (~5-8kms per day or around 1.5hrs) with most office workers only doing 3,000 steps per day. Even more concerning are the stats about teenagers and children. According to the Active Health Kids Canada's 2013 report card, Canadian teens aged 15 - 17 walk just an average of 11 minutes per day!
After first putting on my pedometer and scoffing, "I'm up and about all day, 10,000 steps is going to be easy!" I got quite a rude awakening when over the course of a full work day, I was only at 4,000 steps and had to catch up by going for a long walk and doing multiple laps of the house. Definitely an eye opening and valuable experience.
However, not all walking is equal!
Here are a few ways to make your walking even better:
1. Get off the Treadmill
Many of the benefits of walking are gained by the posterior (backwards) push off, which can only be achieved by walking on solid ground, not on a treadmill. Treadmills reinforce a hip flexion pattern(rather than glute and hamstring driven extension) as the ground is moving beneath you, instead of your own muscles propelling you forward.
2. Gradually transition to minimal shoes or bare-feet where able
The human body was not designed to wear shoes. There, I said it. Not just because I've never liked shoes anyway, but because it is true. Everything that you put on your feet throughout the day will affect your gait (walking) pattern and subsequent health outcomes.
Thicker soles limit your foot's ability to adapt to and sense different surfaces, keeping the 33 joints largely static and many muscles relatively inactive.
Shoes with a positive heel (anything higher at the back than it is at the front) create excessive misaligned load on the joints of the foot, knee and spine, as well as decrease your ability to heel strike and push off posteriorly.
Spot the differences!
3. Get out of the house
There is a quite a difference in the quality of walking while puttering around the house compared to going out specifically for a walk or using your legs instead of your car to get somewhere. Walking outdoors also gives your eyes a break from the limited distances they can see indoors (most frequently between computer screen distance and at max 10m). As with all muscles, the ones that allow your eyes to focus at far distances are a use-it-or-lose-it kind of deal.
4. Try different Terrain
Most of us have become conditioned by walking on flat, smooth ground eg. inside houses and buildings, even outdoors on sidewalks. Walking on natural terrain allows your body to experience different surfaces (think grass, snow, sand, pebbles, dirt, logs) and varying slopes (not just straight up and down, but also along the side of a hill), recruiting your butt and the muscles in your feet even more.
If you haven't been much of a walker, be sure to gradually increase your distances to prevent injury, starting at 15min walks daily and adding another 10 or 15mins per week or as able. A great goal would be 45-60min of walking daily but remember that this doesn't have to be all in one go.
Here is a snap from my one hour walk to work today, contributing 7000 steps to my daily goal! Feeling pretty lucky to live in such a beautiful part of the word :)