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The Joy of Walking The Joy of Walking

        We are, after all, creatures with a past. Having not recently arrived on this planet, we did not evolve under the influences of a modern society or a world dominated by technology.  Our minds and bodies were shaped by natural forces to perform functions far different than those that presently occupy the vast majority of our time.

 

        When we find disharmony, unhappiness and disquiet in modern living, we do not realize that it springs from our disassociation from the primal past.  First and foremost, we were meant to walk.  To run - perhaps, to jog - maybe, but to walk - most definitely.  Before modern machines, before domestic animals, before the riches they brought - we walked.  We walked everywhere while waiting for the wheel.

 

        It was a long wait indeed and we marked it with footprints in the sands of time.  Those footprints led across the continents and we came to recognize walking as something inherently human.  There it was, imbedded in our psyche, fused in the marrow of our bones.   We carried our few portable possessions and depended on each other more and property less.  We strengthened our backs and limbs, burned calories, increased our circulation and cleared our minds of everyday cares.

 

        Walking today is a pastime, both figuratively and literally.  It is largely something done in retirement, a way to pass the time of day.  Who among us has the time to waste when other means of transport are available? We live not near our workplace, autos and commuter rail come between. Even shopping and recreation are not close-by and time demands the wheel. But yet, there is something salient in revisiting primitive ways.  And if we couple walking with vigorous exertion, there can be both physical and spiritual benefits.

 

Thirty-six hundred calories, give or take a few, equal a pound of fat.  A dozen chocolate donuts, six Big Macs, Half & Half in your coffee for 10 weeks - each will add a pound.  In a year fifteen pounds is easy, you can gain fifty in 3 years and not know how it happened.  Conversely exercising at a moderate pace will burn maybe 500 calories an hour.  That would mean over seven hours to lose that pound, and 360 hours to lose the 50.  My God, I thought, this is hopeless.  It’s no wonder that Americans have a weight problem.  Just contrast diet and lifestyle.  We eat like farmhands and work like spectators.

Something must be wrong with the design.  Did God miscalculate?  How can His handiwork get off track so easily?  Why do we have to be so careful?   Well something is wrong and it’s not the design, but the function that design is applied to.  We - you and I - were designed for a function having little to do with modern life where abundance is the norm and processed sugar is ubiquitous.  For a nomadic hunter-gatherer, fat is an insurance policy against famine and shortage (which could be expected regularly) and a sweet tooth is a selection device for the more nutritious ripe fruit.

For primitive man, hours and days of effort yielded minimal to moderate results in obtaining a nutritional bounty.  In the ebb and flow of life, fat stores were built up only to be lost as times got hard.   There was a natural balance dictated by the vicissitudes of life.  Like the waxing and waning moon in that aboriginal night sky, fat deposits grew and shrank alongside the other cycles of nature.

Today’s abundance is extraordinary in man’s experience.   The so called miracle of modern agriculture resulting from high output techniques has made low-cost food widely available.  Obesity is now a serious affliction for an increasing number of Americans.  Many others are at least 30 pounds above their ideal weight.  Much of this diet is adulterated with sugar and corn syrup sweetener, or high in fat content.  At the same time American labor has moved from the fields and factories to offices.  The simple truth is that we devour too many calories and do not toil nearly enough.

None of this should be news for anyone, just a reminder of who we really are - creatures with no natural defense against leisure, comfort and abundance.  Since there was never a reason to defend against such circumstances during our evolvement, we have arrived at the gateway to the 21st century ill equipped to meet certain challenges.

We must recognize the foreign nature of modern life in order to counter its effects.  I believe in walking.  I did not always believe in it.  When a youngster, one was forced to walk, if you couldn’t afford a bicycle (or if your bicycle was stolen).  Walking was for the unsuccessful.  Later, it was too inefficient to be real exercise.  You needed to jog, or join a gym, or use some sort of exercise machine to get efficient results.  Now in my middle years I have come to appreciate walking.  It has a natural pace that I can live with and I have found that I can augment it with hand weights to increase the calorie burn and work the arms and upper body as well.

My experience as set forth in the remainder of this booklet may not be a suitable strategy for others and is not meant as a how-to-do manual.  It is merely an account of one man’s adventure in walking, described and explained with as much insight and passion as I can present.

 

I was unhappy about the growing roll of lose fat sagging around my waist.  Through most of my life, I managed to stay in relatively respectable condition, but as I moved down the back side of forty there was a creeping paunch inching its way around my middle.  I had been incrementally adjusting to its presence until my clothes became uncomfortable and were urging me to resolve the issue at either the gym or the tailor. 

In my efforts to address this reserve of calories, I experimented with various approaches until learning the lesson that duration was more important than intensity and consistency more important than spark.  Thousands of calories take hours to incinerate and one must look for a pace that can be sustained.

Walking was for me the ideal form of exercise because it required little preparation, I already possessed the skills necessary, the equipment was inexpensive and it could be practiced at almost any time of day or night.  Walking had some disadvantages also.  It was less productive than I personally wanted (calorie burn was about 400 per hour) and it did little for the upper body.                                                                                                   

A calorie burn of between 500 and 600 calories per hour, sustained for a total of three hours, could mean the loss of approximately one half a pound in one day through exercise alone.  It also had the added benefit of a cardiovascular workout that was at a respectably vigorous level.  Depending on the arm movement, various upper body muscles, including chest, shoulders, back and arms could be exercised.  However, walking with hand weights, especially when moving the arms vigorously, can create irregular body dynamics and affect the joints and back.  This being the case it was important to begin with light weight and only increase it as my body adjusted to the strain.

 

There is something about the human mind that resists being on a treadmill.  On some level we understand the difference between just treading water and pursuing a destination.  In my experience, an esthetically pleasing scene is a prerequisite to the mental state necessary to achieve maximum performance over a sustained period of time.  Further, we must have a route that is as linear as possible.  If it is to be a round trip, it should be at least two miles in length before beginning the return.  Otherwise it is hard to fool your psyche into believing that the journey has a purpose.  An esthetically pleasing scene allows the mind to escape the drudgery that can inflict itself on any prolonged exercise.  Musical accompaniment encourages a mental release during vigorous activity and can augment the effort by providing a quick tempo on which to synchronize your movements.

Most of all you need a vision or a fantasy on which to focus your mind.  The setting, the route, the music should all work toward enhancing that vision, but the vision must be creative and personally meaningful.  This vision can take any form that encourages you to strive in your efforts.  It should be directly connected to your exercise goals and should be challenging enough to push you to exert yourself.

Walking and Longevity Walking and Longevity

This is a wonderful piece by Michael Gartner,  editor of newspapers large and small and president of NBC News, about his Father's life of walking after quitting driving a car in 1927.  In 1997,  he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Well worth reading. And a few good laughs are guaranteed.

No Left Turns




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