Best foot forward
Making the humble walk a part of your daily routine will ensure you stay fit for life, says V. Kumara Swamy
Think fitness and the images that pop up in your mind are of people gymming, jogging or doing yoga. The humble walk never makes it to our mental collage, although it has all the benefits.
A daily walk transformed the lives of many cardiac patients of Nilesh Gautam, who he often bumps into on his own early morning sojourns. A cardiologist with the Asian Heart Institute in Mumbai, "30-45 minutes of walking every day at around 6km per hour on a plain ground", is the advice Gautam dishes out to heart and diabetic patients and "everybody and anybody" for a healthy life.
That was the advice cardiac patient Ram Srivastava received from his doctor a decade ago. A regular morning walker since then, the 65-year-old resident of Delhi says that he is fitter than ever before. "The doctor advised me that I should ensure my heart rate be 220 minus my age. I try and achieve that to the extent possible," he says. He walks for about 8km everyday, at a speed of 6km per hour. His wife, Madhu, walks too, but in the evenings. Not a great fan of rising early, she says that evenings suit her.
Consensus eludes doctors and fitness gurus on which is more effective - morning or evening walks.
"Morning walks are always better. The body is fresh and you basically charge it for the whole day. In the evening, your body is in the phase of shutting down," says Gautam.
Vesna Pericevic Jacob, holistic fitness guru and author, agrees. "Anything done in the morning helps fire up the metabolism and energises you for the day ahead," she says.
But not everybody is in agreement with this theory. Gagan Arora of Kosmic Fitness, a health club in Delhi, says that one should fit in a walk at any time of the day possible. "It will add up to your daily step goal. To remain healthy one needs at least 10,000 steps a day," he says. Just don't take a walk after a heavy meal, he warns.
But one should not rush into daily walks, warn experts. "If you are leading a sedentary life, start with 2,000-2,500 steps and gradually increase it in 1-2 months," says Arora. You should let your body get conditioned, muscles toned and your heartbeat adjust to your new routine.
The benefits of walking outstrip some of the more popular forms of exercise. A study by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, US, a few years ago found that walking reduced the risk of heart disease by 9.3 per cent, while running reduced it by 4.5 per cent.
Research has also shown that regular walks prevent the human brain from ageing fast and, in some cases, can reverse age-related memory loss. Regular walking has a positive impact on the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for learning and retaining long-term memory.
A side benefit of daily walks is the "performance enhancing drugs" you produce. "The body naturally produces encephalin and endorphins. These help in keeping mood upbeat and a feeling of well-being. Even your cardiovascular system performs well," says Gautam.
With India set to become the diabetic capital of the world, the morning walk has become even more important. If diabetic patients can make it a habit, they can reduce their intake of medication. According to doctors, when you exercise, the receptors in muscle cells open up naturally and you don't need insulin.
Once you have made morning walk a part of your routine, increase the pace and intensity of your exercise. You could include short jogs and spot jumping to break the routine. "Duration, frequency, speed can be worked upon. Age is not a bar on the pace of walking. I train people of different age groups and many elderly can walk much faster," says Arora.
You should take care of a few things before you start to walk. Heart and orthopaedic patients should consult their doctors. Wear clothes suitable to the weather and invest in a pair of well-padded walking shoes. Stay well hydrated; it may be cold but you still need water.
"Walking is the easiest way to stay active and healthy," says Arora.
What's stopping you from taking that first step?