In my late teens and early 20’s I was a competitive runner. I ran 60 – 70 miles a week. I often pushed myself to exhaustion. Then, at the age of 22, I developed chronic fatigue syndrome. I could barely climb a flight of stairs, let alone run.
After I was 90% recovered from chronic fatigue syndrome, I got a job about four miles from my home. I couldn’t afford a car, so I bought a bike. I cycled four miles to and from work for the next 18 months. That was the only exercise I did.
I cycled quite slowly. Yet it had a huge beneficial effect on my health. I felt gradually healthier and stronger. Within a year, I was able to go on a five-day hike in the mountains with friends, carrying a heavy backpack.
Due to over-training as a runner in my youth, I have tended to err on the side of caution regarding exercise. I have settled on walking as the perfect exercise.
If you are over 40, you don’t need any exercise other than walking. If you are under 40, then it’s fine to play sports and work out at the gym. But beyond 40, there’s no need for any of that.
I walk for at least an hour every day. Usually half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the late afternoon. This fits in with my work schedule. I just walk at a relaxed pace and enjoy the fresh air. It’s amazingly refreshing both physically and mentally.
One of the advantages of walking is, it’s almost impossible to overdo it. With jogging or running, it’s easy to push too hard and get exhausted or injured. There’s an element of competition with running. People time themselves and measure their progress.
But with walking, you can just step out the door and away you go. You can walk at your own pace. You don’t need any special equipment (apart from some comfortable shoes). If you walk briskly and swing your arms, you are exercising almost every muscle in your body.
Even if you have chronic fatigue syndrome, or adrenal fatigue, walking can be an important part of your recovery. Of course, you need to take it easy. Never push beyond what is comfortable. But just getting out in the fresh air and moving, however slowly, is really important.
Dr Thomas John Graham, in his classic work ‘Sure Methods of Improving Health & Prolonging Life’ written in 1827 has this to say about walking:
“There is no exercise so natural to us,or in every respect so conducive to health, as walking. It is the most perfect in which the human body can be employed. For by it, every limb is put in motion and the circulation of the blood is effectually carried on throughout the minutest veins and arteries of the system.”
Dr Graham recommends walking for two or three hours every day. Bear in mind, he is writing to the English middle and upper classes in the 19th century. In those days, most ordinary people worked physically in the fields or factories all day long. They didn’t need any more exercise! The middle and upper classes were mainly sedentary (as most people are today).
If you had time to walk for two or three hours a day, it would certainly benefit your health. Most of us don’t have that much time. But one hour a day is realistic for most people. If you can’t spare an hour all at once, break it up into two 30 minute walks, as I do.
Walking can help control blood sugar levels
Studies show walking can also go a long way in controlling your blood sugar levels. Walking raises your insulin sensitivity for up to 24 hours. This is important in helping to avoid type-2 diabetes and it can even help to reverse diabetes.
A brisk walk for just 30 minutes daily can lower your risk for diabetes by 30%.
Rest one day a week
I’m going to do a separate post about the importance of rest and sleep. But for now, I want to mention the need for resting from exercise one day per week. I like to rest on Sunday. It’s a day for doing as little as possible. There are significant health benefits in resting one day per week. It allows your body to recover from the stresses of the week.
You won’t lose fitness by resting one day a week. In fact, you will improve your health and fitness.