The irony of the latter part of the twentieth century is the direct link between Western man’s ‘progress’ in the fields of science, technology and information in general, and the decline in his physical activity.
Motor cars and aeroplanes, fax machines and cell phones – all mean that modern man has become very much more productive. However, this means that time previously spent ‘relaxing’ can now be filled conducting business by smart phone or laptop computer, while traveling. The end result is not only an increase in productivity, but also in stress.
We are a nation of sport fanatics, but sadly for most people, this seldom extends to participation any more strenuous than flicking the switches on the remote control, or reaching for the popcorn or beer. Even activities such as housework or gardening, have now been relegated to someone else to do for us. Added to an all-time low in physical activity, we eat and drink in excess to ‘bust’ our stress
The effects have been such that a 1982 survey by the Human Sciences Research council indicated that amongst whites in South Africa, 59.5 % of deaths can be directly or indirectly attributed to a destructive lifestyle and there is every indication that this trend has persisted.
You may ask why, with our increased knowledge about the effects of a risky lifestyle, and about the benefits of exercise to prevent illness or ward off the effects of old age, we are still doing so little to combat the situation. Research quoted in his book Aerobic Walking, by exercise physiologist, Mort Malkin, indicates that in many cases this is due, not to unwillingness to exercise, but to ignorance and even fear with regard to the body’s ability to exercise, particularly when one has been sedentary for an extended period of time.
It is my contention that a perfect exercise does exist, no matter what your present level of fitness, your age or your weight. Except in cases of extreme handicap, we are all able to walk. All that is required is a structured program of aerobic walking. The term ‘aerobic’ means that the body burns oxygen to produce energy. By gradual means then, your level of fitness and health will increase.
I recently spoke to the manager of one of our local Run/Walk for Life clubs, and he was full of examples of ‘success stories’. I would like to share just two with you. The first relates to age: Mary, a lady of 70, upon retirement decided that she wanted to do some formal exercise. She adapted so well to the walking program that she ‘graduated’ to running and recently completed an ultra marathon of 100 miles!
I realize that this is a rather extreme case, so let me tell you about how effective walking can be for recovery from illness. After she had had a most severe heart attack, Joan joined walk for Life because walking had been recommended as an exercise. She was obviously fearful as well as unfit at the start and could only walk about two hundred meters before having to stop to rest. However, she persevered and now regularly walks distances as far as twelve kilometers at a time!
The advantage of walking is that it can be undertaken at any time and in any place. I even know of a group which walks in the malls. How is that for shopping without stopping? Good for your waistline and your wallet. Also, no expensive equipment, besides a sturdy pair of walking shoes, is required.
The benefits are many. Extensive research has shown regular aerobic walking to be effective in the treatment of hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, respiratory disease, osteoporosis and obesity. Other spin-offs include a general sense of well being and a more positive self-image as well as a reduction in stress, depression and anxiety and a boost in energy levels.
Charles Dickens once said, The best way to lengthen our days is to walk steadily and with a purpose and Emerson remarked that to walk in the woods is one of the secrets of dodging old age. Certainly, feeling better about oneself and knowing that one is doing something constructive about one’s health, goes a long way towards working against the effects of aging on one’s body.
Now you may say, If walking is good; isn’t running better? Not always. The pressure exerted by a runner at every step is five times his body weight, while for a walker it is only one and a half times, so the danger of injury is decreased. Also, if you are very unfit, or overweight, you may feel that you first need to lose weight or get to a level of fitness before being able to run. With walking, you begin where you are – and you work at your own level of fitness and ability.
What has walking done for me, you may ask. Well, I have had a serious love-hate relationship with walking for the past ten or fifteen years. I joined Run/Walk for Life at that time, but was unable to attend regularly, because they met at a time of day referred to in our home as ‘suicide hour’ – and so the demands of a young family meant that I had to stop attending. However, I have never really stopped walking since then. Winter and rainy weather are problem times for me, but I soon find myself becoming crabby and restless if I miss out on too many walks.
As for weight loss, I can’t boast of too much success in that area, but that is probably due to another serious relationship which I have – with food! However, it has helped to control my weight and I certainly feel better for it.
For me, the wonder of walking is that you do not have to be able to run a mile in four minutes; shoot five under par, or win in straight sets. You compete against yourself, and every time you walk a little further or a little faster than the previous time, it is a triumph.
In the words of Ecclesiastes, the race is not to the fleet of foot, but to him who goes the distance.
So, Walk for your Life!
Marietjie (Ricky) Woods is a teacher of English at a South African high school. Her passion is English in all its variations and forms. She has recently started writing, having spent most of her adult life correcting the writing of others. A Distinguished Toastmaster, she has been involved in public speaking and training for more than 15 years, often running courses on presentation skills and public speaking,especially for students and scholars.