I was still behind my desk when she appeared. Heels tapping the floor in a perfect rhythm. Her hips rocking from side to side like a pendulum of love. I put the whiskey and the .45 in the drawer, but I didn’t stand up or take my hat off. She’d been here before.
“Sheesh Johnny, you’re still sitting at that desk. No wonder you’ve got chronic pelvic pain. You ain’t working your blood through your cells,” she said.
“You get my blood flowing in a particular direction,” I told her.
“Not lately you don’t. Let’s take a walk.”
“Why the hell should I do that?”
“Quit the tough guy act. Sittin’ around is making you soft.”
“Soft like that?”
“Yeah, soft like that.”
Dames. They can be as ruthless as a .38 special with a broken double action.
OKAY, this is a black-and-white exaggeration. Taking a walk isn’t going to make you get ready when that bombshell in your life gives you the look like in those ridiculous Viagra commercials. But it is, surprisingly, part of the equation.
When a lot of us think why we’re on earth, our first thought is to have sex. Some others think they’re here to get revenge on Billy from high school, or to bake the world’s largest cheese puff. But if you ask a biomechanist what humans are meant to do, they give a simple answer (based on their specific lens of the world):
Humans are built to walk. A lot.
Look back a few generations, and you find that our ancestors they walked all over the farm, the plains, the woods, and so on. They rode horses sometimes, but most of the hoofing was on human foot.
Go back a thousand generations and everybody walked for hundreds if not thousands of miles every day. Migrations. Chasing game animals. Moving to safer ground. Being chased away by the turkey-hat tribe. Following a comet or a really big butterfly. Hauling bricks for a pyramid. You get the idea.
In the bible, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, David, and Jesus walked more than all of the old people at the mall combined. At least half of their conversations were probably while traveling in sandals or barefoot. Raphael’s painting Socrates of Athens shows him walking while having a dialogue. They had it right.
Fast forward to today. Many of us still walk – from bed to table to car seat to desk and home to the couch.
Alone, that’s not a good enough argument to walk more. Aside from walking everywhere, humans killed each other over dreams, sacrificed war prisoners to the sun, and scratched their butts at dinner. And I’m definitely not going to argue in favor of scratching your butt at dinner.
But walking is the foremost exercise of the human machine. We’re also built to squat, to climb, to swing, and even to throw rocks and spears, as the ball joint in human shoulders is unique. But getting from point A to point B used to be 99% walking.
Walking is the easiest way to place the human body in a position to which it is naturally adapted. It’s also the easiest way to get blood flowing to every cell.
I’m taking this information from biomechanist Katy Bowman, a personal hero of mine. Her work on the subject is extensive. She’s written several books, dissertations, and created coursework on rehabilitation for many problems.
How walking helps joint and back pain
Now, credentials aside, the experience of myself and my wife – who were shackled to cars and desks like most Americans who work. I used to suffer from lower back pain.
I tried Esther Gokhale’s methods of sitting and standing. I tried standing desks, and I still use them. But standing at work did nothing to mitigate the pain.
Bowman had the correct answer. Walking breaks. Lots of walking breaks. In conjunction with a regular stretching routine.
My lower back pain went away. And I still feel the most flexible when I get in a nice long walk.
Frequent walking breaks provide:
- Low-level cardio exercise that increases blood flow
- A break from sitting, which is not natural to the human body
- A break from stress while you depart from a project momentarily
- An increase in circulation
- A sense of freedom when shackled to a desk all day
The hardest part of walking is obviously not walking. It is two things:
- Making the time during your busy schedule
- Resisting the expectations of others to be sitting/working/chatting/eating all the time
So guess what? NEW HABIT TIME! If this habit feels like putting on a nun’s habit, remember that you’re going outside. You can bring a friend. You can even do Prancercise™ if you want, but the law in 48 states requires you to have a verified camel toe first.
Hey man, my boss says that’s not feasible
Most of us don’t take walks at work. We might be afraid to be seen as not working hard.
But any boss with half a brain knows that short breaks are crucial to performance.
Most bosses are not the kind of evil bosses that you meet at the end of a level in a video game. Most of them would like to move around more, too. Maybe they’ll get inspired by you.
See what you can work out. A walk at lunch and a few five-minute breaks in the day will make you more productive. Tell them that.
And see what you can get away with under the pretense of walking to a meeting or to the bathroom. As long as your work gets done, it shouldn’t matter.
But if your boss really is that way, it’s because they’re terrified. Forgive them – and get a new boss. Or a new job.
Get dedicated walking shoes
For your long walks, you’re going to want some shoes that aren’t dress shoes, heels, or fancy. Something you can throw on and get dirty.
I’m a big fan of minimalist shoes, like those weird toe shoes that stand out more than just having bare feet at the office. But those may actually not be the best idea right now.
If you’re used to shoes with a heel, the most important thing is that you get walking more, first. You can make the transition into minimalist shoes later, and GRADUALLY. I’ll cover minimalist shoes in a future lesson.
My sister tried to wear Fivefingers (the toe shoes) all at once and screamed at me “THEY GAVE ME SHIN SPLINTS!”
Her body was unused to walking without support. Yours may be, too. So don’t go that route just yet, if you’re used to normal shoes. We’ll come back to that in another post.
Hey, I can’t just leave my kids at home while I walk into Mordor
Kids and dependents make it a lot harder to get out and walk. But it can be done.
You might make walking with them a separate event and get a walk by yourself later.
Also carrying your kids a long way requires practice. It takes some very well-developed core stabilizer muscles and biceps to carry a heavy toddler for a long distance. Be sure to switch arms frequently, and consider putting them on your shoulders for a while.
Don’t let kids be an excuse though. Your kids and dependents count on you, and they need you to set a healthy example for their own lives.
Do treadmills count?
If you live in Minnesota or another artic zone, yes. You’ll want the option to walk on treadmills sometimes, because -40º F is tough, even for full-blooded Finns (which I am not).
Treadmill movement is not the same as real walking though. You can improve it by increasing the incline on the treadmill.
However, don’t agonize – if it’s between a treadmill and not walking, use the treadmill!
- Find at least three times you can take short (7-10 minute) walks during the day and write them in your journal.
- Find at least one time you can take a long walk (20-30 minutes) during each day of the week. Write these in your journal.
- Plug your first week of walks into your schedule.
- Take the walks. Remember, that’s time for just you. It’s a part of your recovery. Use it to make calls if you have to – or just let go.
- Get dedicated walking shoes if you don’t have them.