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Getting fit could be a walk in the park


IN THEIR STRIDE Louise Keirns, Loretta Kearns and Declan McCrann walking along the Slí na Sláinte route of the Westport Greenway as part of Operation Transformation in 2016.  Pic: Conor McKeown

Adding a bit more walking to your day is a simple change that can make a big difference

Andrew O'Brien

Wouldn’t it be great if at least one of the millions of ‘quick fixes’ for health that are marketed actually worked? So far today I have seen advertisements for various lotions, potions, shakes, powders, pills and bars that, when combined should make me live forever. If I was to be convinced by the marketing of them all, I would also need to work forever to  pay for the stuff!
Of course, most of these are modern snake-oils. There might be a little bit of evidence to show a little bit of an effect, usually in the short term, but given that most people don’t know how to read or interpret scientific evidence, the evidence can be ‘massaged’ to look better than it might really be.
So is there a magic potion that really works? I doubt it; if there was and I knew about it, I’d be selling it from my yacht in Tahiti.There is though, one simple thing that can make a big difference. It’s backed up by more scientific studies than you can poke a stick at and costs nothing. In fact, it saves money. It’s involves moving one leg in front of the other in an inverted pendular motion repeatedly as a means of getting from one point to another. It’s called walking.
According to World Health Organisation data, the fourth biggest cause of death worldwide is physical inactivity. The top three places are taken by high blood pressure, tobacco use and high blood glucose. But certainly numbers one and three above can be significantly improved by physical activity. As far back as 1970, research had been done to show the benefits of exercise in treating high blood pressure.
One reason for blood glucose rising is if all of the glucose being ingested is not being used. Make the muscles do something to burn glucose, and they will have to take glucose out of the blood to use as fuel. No tablet or injection works as well.
Why walking then? If all physical activity is important, why is walking the best? The answer is simple. Everyone can do it, but not everyone does. Thus adding a bit more walking to your day is one simple change that can make a big difference. How often have you driven the half a mile from one shop to the next, rather than walk for less than five minutes? I’m constantly amazed by how many fit people drive everywhere, missing out on the extra ‘free’ exercise walking can give them.
Research has shown that increasing the step-count of elderly individuals significantly reduces the length of hospital stays. Weight-bearing exercise is critical for maintaining bone density and cartilage integrity, which translates as walking reduces your risk of both osteoporosis and osteoarthritis. Exercise of any type is effective in reducing your risk of back pain and is as effective as medication in treating depression. Need I go on?
My big reason for advocating walking though, is the inherent simplicity. It’s not as strenuous as running and therefore less likely to hurt. Walking doesn’t require the balance (or lycra) of cycling and unlike swimming, there’s a very low risk of drowning. You don’t need equipment, just a pair of shoes, or none if you prefer. It can be done as a stand-alone exercise session, or as a simple means of getting somewhere.
For the less mobile, walking laps of the hall on a regular basis across the day will eventually add up to a longer walk. For the keen beans, we are surrounded by mountains covered in small trails that are much easier walked than run.
I suspect part of the reason many of us don’t walk as much as we should, is that it’s slow. You and I both know that driving is quicker; that you could just nip down to the shop and back in no time in the car.
And there’s the problem. Short car trips, quick fixes and magic potions. They’ll be the death of us all.

Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at www.wannarun.ie.