16 Nov 04
24 Jan '13
I was always shy, introverted, and analytical. I had bad posture. I bounced when I walked.
So I became an engineer. And sat at a desk all my working life. And got a potbelly. And then,
after retiring, and after turning seventy, I discovered how to walk. Now the potbelly is
gone, I no longer bounce when I walk, and I feel great. How, you say. I'm glad you asked
because that is what this article is all about. There are two parts to the process – procedure
and posture. But before talking about how to walk, I first want to tell you about how not to
walk. This is a very important topic for elderly people, who are prone to falling on their face.
Many old people watch their feet while they walk. They are afraid that they might trip and fall
on their face, so they watch their feet to make sure to step only where it is safe to step. But
looking down for an extended time while walking is a very bad habit - it actually causes people
to fall because It defeats their sense of balance. All their life they maintained their balance by
holding their head erect. In that position their minds knows how to read the balance detectors
in their inner ears. But when they hold their head down and their balance is disturbed in any
way, their brain gets confused as to which way is up and before it can figure it out, they land on
their face. So then what do they do? They get a walker, which allows them to walk with their
head bent over watching their feet. And then they become addicted to both walking with their
head bent down AND to walking with a walker! So, there are 3 things you must do: 1) walk with
your head held high, 2) glance down with your eyes from time to time to make sure you don't
step on something unexpected (like those Liquid Amber seed balls) or stumble on an obstacle,
and 3) pay attention to where you are walking; do not get so absorbed in a distraction, such as
a conversation, that you don't pay attention to the condition of the sidewalk in front of you. If,
however, your doctor orders you to use a walker for whatever reason, then thats it, you use the
walker. After all, falling can be fatal. OK, now on to the main subject.
Maintaining good health is all about a good diet, physical exercise, mental exercise, and a good
nights sleep. Walking is a very good way to insure adequate physical exercise. You should do
it daily or at least 3 times a week for the rest of your life, as follows:
- For starters, select a 2 mile course that is about an eighth of a mile from your house.
Check the mileage with your car. You can later add many other courses to add variety.
The essential points are that you want about an eighth of a mile to stretch out and warm
up your muscles, a 2 mile main course, and another eighth of a mile or so to cool down
while keeping your muscles stretched out.
- Re 2 miles, if 2 miles is too much for you, start the process at 1 mile and then when you
feel up to it, change to 1 mile 2 times a day, and later to 2 miles 1 time per day.
Conversely, when you get so old that you can no longer do 2 miles, drop down to 1 mile
twice a day and carry on. Etc., etc. Some doctors say that you should walk at least 1 mile
- Walk out your front door, assume the posture (as described later), walk slow at first with a
medium stride, to loosen up, then increase your pace and stride slowly so that when you
arrive at the starting point of the main part of the course, you are up to cruising speed with
a full stride.
- Regarding stride, you want a long stride in order to stretch your leg muscles over a good
portion of their range. Do this during cruising and cool-down, except when encountering
hills. There you may have to change gears to a smaller step, and/or a slower pace, in
order to not overtax your heart, lungs, or leg muscles, or to not overheat.
- Re overheating, don’t do it. Slow down when needed. Drink water as needed.
- Re dehydration, drink all the water your body desires during and after the walk. Don’t hold
back. (You should hold back some before the walk, otherwise the water will slosh around
inside you belly when you walk.) If you are sweating a lot, use Gatorade instead of water
in order to replenish your salts.
- Re breathing, take long deep breaths, long to inhale and long to exhale. Say 3 to 5 steps
to inhale and 3 to 6 steps to exhale. Going up hill requires faster breathing than walking
on the flat. Deep breathing will pump up your chest which abets good posture. Shallow
breathing is not good; use the full extent of your lungs. Breathing with your diaphragm is
better than breathing with your ribs. Also use deep breathing when you go to bed - say 3
sheep to inhale and 4 sheep to exhale.
- Re arm swing - it helps your balance and it helps your posture. Straight forward and
straight aft. Or whatever...
- In the beginning don’t worry about speed. Go slow. Just walk the miles. Survival is all
that counts here. Do not walk fast! You don’t want to end up with sore muscles or worse
yet blistered feet.
- Re blisters, if you think you might be getting a blister, you are getting a blister. At the first
opportunity, drain the blister, if applicable, and put mole skin or wide medical tape on it.
Put on an ample size so that it will transfer the load to healthy skin. It will take 2 weeks of
proper care to get rid of the blister but if you keep it drained and taped up you will
probably be able to walk on it the whole time.
- After you walk slow for 3 days in a row without any problems, increase your speed a bit
each day until you work up to a medium pace. Don’t rush your progress; after all you are
in this for a lifetime, so why rush it.
- After several days at medium speed and zero aches and zero blisters, break out your
watch and time your 2 mile transit time at this medium pace. Now that you are through the
break-in period, you may notice that you feel a bit better, less tired.
- Next you want to increase your speed slowly over several days or weeks until you are at a
fast pace, a little better than 3 mph, or less than 40 minutes for the 2 miles, for the average
person. Hikers and back packers walk at an average of 3 mph on the flat. If you feel that
3+ mph is too fast for you, that's OK, walk at what you feel is your fast pace. If you have
any aches, slow down but finish the miles. Always do the miles regardless of how slow
you have to go, whenever possible. Do your fast pace for a week or 2 before…
- The last-and-forever-after phase is to occasionally walk at your maximum speed. This
amounts to around 4 mph, or 30 minutes for the 2 mile course, for the average hale
youngish person. (As a point of reference, "speed walkers" go 3.5 to 5.5 mph and "race
walkers" go 5 to 9 mph.) You may not be able to do 4 mph but don’t worry about it. Just
do your best without killing yourself. To get to your maximum speed you will have to push
yourself. This will involve some sweat and elevated heart rates for most people. Check
with you doctor if you have any concerns. I recommend that you alternate between
maximum, medium, and fast. Say maximum effort one day and then medium the next (to
recover) and then fast the next (to prepare) and then back to maximum the next. By the
time you get to your ultimate maximum speed, you should feel a noticeable improvement
in your health – more energy, more vitality, and a feeling of well being. You will probably
also have lower at-rest blood pressure and triglycerides too.
- After you get to your maximum speed its up to you to regulate your routine. I recommend
walking every day or at the very least 3 times a week. Walk at a maximum pace at least
once a week, more if possible; walk fast between times. Maybe throw in a medium once in
a while as a treat, if you can stand to go that slow.
- Finally the cool-down – When you finish the 2 mile course reduce your pace to slow but
maintain your stride in order to keep your muscles stretched out as they cool down,
otherwise they may knot up. You might also want to throw in a little swagger as you cool
down – you’ve earned it, and it helps you to keep loose.
- Maintain your posture throughout until you walk into the house and close the door.
- Re when to walk - just before a meal is best or one or more hours after. I like to walk just
before breakfast in the summer time and just before lunch in the winter time.
- Re walking on dirt trails, wear boots with good ankle support and good traction. Wear fat
wool socks over thin socks, preferably polypropylene to wick away the sweat. You will
probably have to get boots 2 sizes larger then your street shoes in order to allow room for
the fat socks plus some toe room for walking down hills.
- Re hills, trim your toenails or else you may have a painful time walking downhill.
- A rule of thumb that backpackers use to estimate hiking time is that it will take 1 hour for
every 3 miles plus an extra 1 hour for every 1000 feet of elevation gain.
- Re boots, heavy boots, aside from being sturdier, give you more exercise per mile than
lightweight ones but they take longer to break in. (I use light weight boots.)
- Re shoe inserts - I recommend you use "SuperFeet" insoles. They help foot to leg
alignment and provide good arch support.
And now for the posture: HEAD, SHOULDERS, CHEST, STOMACH, KNEES –
The Drill Sargent got it right: "Head high, chest out, stomach in." That accomplishes most
- Allow your HEAD to float up to its highest possible height so that you are quite erect. Your
neck should be vertical, not stooped forward, if possible.
- Allow your SHOULDERS to relax and assume a natural position, then bring them back a
little by pinching your shoulder blades together.
- CHEST out; chest up.
- STOMACH in. Use your abdominal muscles.
- Bend your KNEES a little. Rotating your hips a little will straighten out your spine a little
and cause your knees to bend a little which is what we want. It will also cause your
stomach to flatten a little, witch is also what we want. (By keeping a little bend in the
knees as you walk you will bounce much less. Do not allow your knee to straighten out all
the way. If you notice that your are bouncing, then you are not keeping your knees bent.)
of the above.
If you make yourself as tall as you can be, it will induce a chain reaction: your whole body will
straighten up and assume the position.
In the beginning you will have to continually check you posture to make sure that you are as tall
as you can be, say every several seconds. If you are not as tall as you can be, then do a full
accounting - Knees, Stomach, Chest, Shoulders, and Head. After a while you will only have to
check and correct your posture every few minutes. Finally, after a very, very long time, it will be
burned into your brain and your muscles and then your subconscious will take care of your
posture without conscious thought.
That’s the posture. A little rigid but quite effective. And it commands "respect" too. Once when
I was out walking, a construction worker actually stopped working, came to attention, and
saluted me. And just the other day while I was walking around the Art Fair on University Ave., a
man walked up to me and said, "I really like your posture. Never loose your posture."
It's good while brushing your teeth. Its good for standing at bars - less tiring than slouching.
Men, ladies love flat bellies (more accurately, they hate potbellies). And ladies, now that I think
of it, men do not like pot bellies on women either. So people, make walking with good posture
a part of your daily routine, and do it for the rest of your lives.
Always walk with good posture.
Always stand with good posture.
Always sit with good posture.
When you lie down, you are on your own.
Keep your head up high.
Look life in the eye.
And smile a lot.