When and where do you walk?

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

September 2011

Humans are able to walk almost endlessly. Some hunter-gatherers today are able to follow their prey for hours or days until the exhausted animal can no longer escape. A pair of extreme walkers from Australia are credited with a non-stop journey of more than 154 hours without sleep or rest. Now doesn't that make your daily one-hour walk to keep fit a little easier?

We are not only capable of walking long distances, our bodies have been tuned by evolution to benefit from it. Scores of scientific studies reveal the advantages of walking at a brisk pace for an hour or more a day. One of those benefits is that brain function improves. Aerobic exercise such as walking not only helps to prevent decline in mental performance, it actually improves connections within the brain and increases brain volume.

There is no best time of the day to walk but earlier is usually better. Most of us have peak energy in the morning and we're likely to be a little spent by evening. If your commute makes it difficult to walk before going to work you can get in some walking by parking at a distance from the office or having lunch somewhere besides the deli next door.

If you're not a regular exerciser, start slowly. Begin with no more than 15 minutes on a level surface and add 5 minutes a day until you reach your target of at least 30 minutes and preferably 60 minutes. After about one month, most persons can walk at the rate of about 3 ½ to 4 miles per hour while still being able to engage in conversation. After a few weeks, deliberately plan your route to include some hills. You'll find that different muscles come into play compared to those you used on a level route. The extra effort will pay off in greater heart and lung capacity.

Some persons might want to engage in interval training, adding short bursts of jogging every few minutes. That is particularly helpful if you're trying to lose weight. Prolonged running or jogging, however, yield only a little more benefit while increasing the risk of injury.

Safety is always an issue, so seek out areas where traffic is minimal. Daytime walking is better simply because it's easier to avoid hazards that can cause a fall. One final caution: always have a cell phone with you or walk with a companion.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.