As the weather turns warmer in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s a great time to go outside and do some weight-bearing activities.
One of the simplest, most effective, and enjoyable bone-building exercises this time of year is walking. A brisk walk not only gets your circulation going and your lungs full of fresh air, it also exposes your skin to bone-healthy sunlight. And of course, walking helps build your bones because it’s a weight-bearing exercise.
There are, however, different types of walking. A relaxing stroll is certainly a fine way to get moving and spend some time outdoors. But there are easy ways to get more bone health benefits out of your walking time.
So today, I’ll share with you five simple tips to make the most of your walks and I’ll explain why you should avoid as much as possible sitting for long periods of time.
In the Osteoporosis Reversal Program, I recommend walking and other weight-bearing exercises, because they work against gravity…actually, you could say they work with gravity, because weight-bearing exercises make use of the earth’s gravitational pull to build strong bones.
You see, bones respond to force – the action of muscles and gravity on the skeleton. As I write in Densercise, the only exercise program specifically designed to increase bone density:
“Exercise stimulates bone growth by increasing osteoblast activity, endogenous electrical activity, serum osteocalcin levels and it even stimulates the pituitary gland to increase growth hormone production.”1
Walking is certainly not the only weight-bearing exercise there is; Densercise is chock-full of various moves that build your bones. But I am emphasizing walking today for several reasons:
- Walking gets you outdoors where you can reap the benefits of sunshine and fresh air.
- It’s a good opportunity to practice good posture and improve it.
- It’s easy to take go out for a walk – no special equipment is required except a good pair of walking shoes. It can be done just about anywhere.
- Perhaps most importantly, walking is the antidote to constant sitting, which is becoming more and more of a health problem.
Don’t Just Sit There – Your Health Depends on It
With so many of us working desk jobs and spending large amounts of time in front of various screens—from computers to television to video games—a new health concern has arisen: too much sitting.
For most of human history, sitting down was just not done for long periods of time. People were moving constantly, hunting, gathering, and later, farming. Comfy, soft furniture was not even heard of until more modern eras; people squatted or knelt around fires and during meals. Even up to the last 100 years or so, before television and computers, men and women worked with their hands and moved most of the time. Sitting or lying down all day would have been a sign of illness…and in a way, it still is.
Sitting Can Shorten Your Life
Sitting in modern times is not a sign of acute illness so much as it is a harbinger of health issues, including increased mortality rates. Studies have linked too much sitting to a host of health problems, from cardiovascular disease to obesity. (Note – while weight-bearing exercise is good for your bones, being overweight is not.) Most disturbing, sitting has been linked to early death.
In an Australian study, researchers studied the effects of prolonged sitting on individuals over the age of 45. After adjusting for variables such as gender, level of physical activity, and whether or not the participants smoked, the scientists concluded that:
“Prolonged sitting is a risk factor for all-cause mortality… Public health programs should focus on reducing sitting time in addition to increasing physical activity levels.”2
Adults fare no better in the US. According to a 2010 study, excessive sitting was once again shown to shorten lifespans:
“The time spent sitting was independently associated with total mortality,” the study concludes. “Public health messages should include both being physically active and reducing time spent sitting.”3
“Sitting is the New Smoking”
The results of the Australian and US studies, and other similar data, led Dr. Anup Kanodia of Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center to declare that “sitting is the new smoking.” The health problems brought on by sitting more than half the day are actually more lethal than cigarette smoking. Researchers in a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine compared sitting and watching TV to smoking, and concluded that for every hour of television you watch, your lifespan decreases by 22 minutes, whereas smoking has been shown to decrease your lifespan by 11 minutes per cigarette.4
This is certainly a cause for concern, plus…
Sitting isn’t Good for Your Bones
When you’re sitting down, you are often in a position of poor posture, such as hunched over a computer keyboard or slouched on the couch. And sitting is the opposite of weight-bearing activities; your bones aren’t getting any stimulation to grow and increase in density.
I really hope that by now you’re practicing my water trick to prevent long periods of uninterrupted sitting. But that’s not enough to keep your bones strong, so…
Let’s Go For a Walk!
Thankfully, the rather scary risks associated with excessive sitting have a simple solution: regular physical activity. And walking is an excellent remedy for the sit-down epidemic.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Walk
As I mentioned earlier, there are five simple actions you can take to increase the bone health benefits of your walks. It seems that we have less and less time these days, so these tips are designed to help you make the most of your time spent walking.
Tip #1: Use the “Talking Test”
One of the best things about walking is that you can do it with a friend. But if you find that you’re chatting more than breathing, you need to increase your pace. You can still chat, but make sure that between your words you’re breathing audibly. Your pace should be fast enough that talking and breathing is not impossible, but it’s a bit challenging.
Tip #2: Walk on a Variety of Terrains
If you walk on one street all the time, and you’re always on the left side of the road (this is so in America – in other countries, walking on the right it advised), then your right foot is higher. This has to do with the way streets are paved to allow for water run-off. So try to add variety: head for a trail in the woods or a walking path or track. Hiking is a good option, too, because the terrain is usually varied over hills and slopes.
Another way to vary your walk is to add in some stair-stepping exercises if you happen to pass a stairway, or you can include a short, steep hill for variety.
Tip #3: Practice Correct Posture
As “Savers” are aware, loss of height and poor posture are concerns among the osteoporosis community. When you walk, take the opportunity to “train” your body to have the best possible posture. Tuck in your tummy and your rear, and hold your shoulders back comfortably. Look up and forward as much as possible, and envision your spine being stretched upward from the top of your head.
Tip #4: Take Multiple Short Walks
Most of us cannot spend hours at a time walking. But if you break your walking sessions up into 2 to 4 15-minute sessions, at the very least you’ll get the 30 to 60 minutes of daily exercise, and more importantly, you’ll break up a prolonged sitting pattern. By taking multiple short walks through the day, you give your body a break and your bones some much-needed stimulation.
Tip #5: Warm-Up First and Start Slowly
Before you start your walk it’s a good idea to practice some warm-up exercises for just a few minutes. Also, during the first two or three minutes of your walk, start at a slower pace, and then gradually pick up the speed, trying to maintain it for the rest of your walk.
Enjoy the fresh air!
1 Moffat, Marilyn, Elaine Rosen, and Sandra Rusnak-Smith. “Musculoskeletal Essentials: Applying The Preferred Physical Therapist Practice Patterns.” Essentials in Physical Therapy series. Slack Health Care Books and Journals. Thorofare, NJ. 2006
2 van der Ploeg, H.P, et al. “Sitting time and all-cause mortality risk in 222 497 Australian adults.” Archives of Internal Medicine. 2012 March 26; 172(6):494-500. doi: 10.1001/archinternmed.2011.2174. Web. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22450936
3 Patel, Alpa V., et al. “Leisure Time Spent Sitting in Relation to Total Mortality in a Prospective Cohort of US Adults.” American Journal of Epidemilogy. April 29, 2010. Vol. 172, Issue 4 > pp 419-429. Web. http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/172/4/419.abstract
4 Veerman, J. Lennert, et al. “Television viewing time and reduced life expectancy: a life table analysis.” British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2012; 46:927-930 doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2011-085662. Web. http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/46/13/927.abstract