There’s a right way to walk and many wrong ways, for good health

By Michael Hoffman

Walking, all serious walkers know, is more than mere locomotion. Health to some, satori to others, it seems to prove all the hoary old adages about happiness being within easy reach if only we knew it. It is sublime in its simplicity. It needs no money, no equipment, no planning, no prior arrangements, no skill – nothing; you step outside, close your door, turn left or right as the fancy takes you, and are as free as any bird in the air. A bird looking down on a walker may well think to itself, “That’s the human way of flying.”

 The satorial aspects are well summed up by the Zen monk-beggar-tramp-haikuist Taneda Santoka (1882-1940), who wrote of “a realm of roundness, wholeness that transcends self and others… I have to walk, walk, walk until I get there.”

A staunch medical advocate is Dr Kazuhiro Nagao, whose 2018 bestseller bears a title that pretty much speaks for itself: “90 percent  of illnesses are curable by walking.” Preventable too, no doubt.

Josei Seven (Aug 18-25) joins the chorus. Walking can add 20 years to your life, it says, citing American research. Data collected among people over 64 point to a startling inference: those who walk 0.2 meters per second have a life expectancy of 74 years; 0.8 meters per second, 80 years; 1.6 meters per second, 95 years.

Walk 2,000 to 3,000 steps a day, experts say, and look forward to a fully ambulatory old age, heading into the 90s without even leaning on a cane.

Three thousand steps a day is little enough, and yet modern conveniences are such that you can easily get through a day with less. Your car takes you here, a taxi whisks you there, public transport is and goes everywhere – why walk? Why leave the house at all, given online shopping, remote work and a natural inclination to avoid the COVID-19-ridden outside world as much as possible?

As walking declines, bodies slacken, and minds too, it may be. Everyone knows that walking tones muscles. To the same extent it stimulates minds. Thoughts grow expansive in the open air. You think thoughts walking outdoors that would never occur to you at rest within four walls. It’s more than the heightened flow of blood to the brain, though it’s that too. Maybe it’s the sheer mindlessness of it. Almost any activity demands at least some concentration; walking, none. Thus liberated, and prodded to action by the body’s happy vigor, the mind takes wing.

That said, there’s a right way to walk and many wrong ways, Josei Seven hears from “walking specialist” Mayu Yamaguchi. Some people walk like pelicans, others like penguins, others still like gorillas. They are not the role models for us.

Who wants to walk like a penguin? Nobody, but our occupations leave their imprint on us while our minds are elsewhere. Deskbound workers tend to walk as they sit – head bent, spine curved, with deleterious impact on neck, shoulders and knees. That’s the human penguin strut. The pelican walk characterizes the service industry – spine curved backward rather than forward; very hard on the lower back. Gorillas, head held high and chest thrust outward, are proud beasts; still, not quite human for all that, and executives and women in high heels should be on their guard against an unconscious tendency to stride gorilla-style.

 Which of the bipeds, then, should we learn from?  The flamingo, says Yamaguchi – head high but not too high, eyes focused 10 meters ahead, knees straight, front foot up at the toes and down on the heel, rear foot down on the toes and up at the heel.

What more need you know? You are now ready for a walk.

© Japan Today

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Brings to mind that old song, "Walk like an Egyptian". But, seriously, it's good to walk the talk. Who cares about wearing out the shoes? Buying new ones is cheaper than a heart attack.

7 ( +8 / -1 )

A very important issue in health that goes ignored way too often. Sometimes it gets a brief boom because of a book or something like that and gets forgotten again, it should be part of the information that gets handed by doctors in the usual health checks together with dietary advice and how to recognize signs of serious diseases in the daily life. This article is a good example of how to explain things briefly to get a strong impression on the people.

The only thing is that feels could be better is that after making such an appeal to pelicans, penguins and gorillas as "uncool" examples of ways of walking, they end up recommending to walk like a flamingo, which can be a very healthy example, but not many people would like to be told they walk like one.

6 ( +11 / -5 )

Walking is built into my life and I always walk anywhere I can and love to push myself in extreme weather like we had in the recent heatwave. I'd give up my car before my walking shoes.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

We probably walk more than many city dwellers.

On an individual level yes, but data suggests city people as a whole walk more than those the countryside, who have cars and kei trucks to take them everywhere and can easily park at every destination.

The main group of people walking large distances in the countryside is kids going to school, a huge source of local pride. "My son goes 5km each way!" etc. Sometimes the people saying this will get in their car to go 100m to their neighbour's house.

Note that I'm talking about walking only, and many inaka people are very active. 95 year olds growing daikon, whacking weeds, shoveling snow, etc.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

If you need diet advice, use the internet. It's basically take in fewer calories than you produce

Actually, it's take in fewer calories than you use. (Humans don't actually produce calories.).

In other words, if you use 2,000 calories a day, eat 1500 calories a day. 2000 - 1500 = -500. That leads to weight loss. However, if you use 1500 and eat 2000 that leads to a weight gain. 1500 - 2000 = +500.

Six decades ago Jack LaLanne was a fitness guru who used walking, a chair, and diet to keep fit. Died at 96, no word on how fast he walked. The chair was for building up strength (push ups, sit ups).

From his wikipedia page:

1979 (age 65) – Towed 65 boats in Lake Ashinoko, near Tokyo, Japan. He was handcuffed and shackled, and the boats were filled with 6,500 lb (2,950 kg; 460 st) of Louisiana Pacific wood pulp.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Walking is built into my life and I always walk anywhere I can and love to push myself in extreme weather like we had in the recent heatwave.

Amen to this. The physical and mental benefits of walking, especially in natural environments, are only now being revealed to us.

Stress relief, lower blood pressure, boosts to the immune ststem, improving sleep, accelerating recovery from illness and improving mental health are only a few of the things that a good walk can do for a person. Take a set of binocs and a good torch and you've got a hobby that keeps getting better, costs nothing and has almost zero environmental impact.

And if it's the gym you crave, the forest is a natural gym. Grab a sturdy low bough and do some pull ups.

I'd give up my car before my walking shoes.

Double amen.

1 ( +1 / -0 )


It baffles me why people (except for body builders and other such serious athletes) pay money to go to a fitness gym. In many cases, a person will drive there and then jump on an exercise bike, treadmill what have you.

Totally. I am always baffled to see people use the elevator in the sports center to go up to the gym floor, and then seeing the same people on these treadmill devices. What are they thinking?

If you need diet advice, use the internet. It's basically take in fewer calories than you produce.

It is not that simple. E.g. a calorie from soft drinks is not the same as a calorie from from real food. As you say, there is plenty of information on the internet. A real eye opener for me was the "Sugar the bitter truth" lecture from Robert Lustig.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Having dogs kinda forces you to walk every day. And, if you don't have a yard, two or three times a day.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Walking is great and a healthy form of exercise but it is hazardous in japan since japanese don't pay attention when they walk. Drifting. Zigzaging. Sudden stops. Phone zombies. Bursting out of shops onto the sidewalk wihjout looking. Standing at the top or bottom of escalators when getting off said contraption and jamming up the line of people behind them.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

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