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Walk!

Tuesday morning, I woke up feeling my entire body was in pain, from the soles of my feet upwards.

I was prepared for it, having marched the previous day to celebrate (smile) the latest State of the Nation Address (Sona). I was with several senior citizens, in particular Judy Taguiwalo; we were all determined to do our Long March.

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I wrote last Wednesday about our making it all the way to the church. I estimated the distance to be 3 kilometers. Judy emailed a correction from Mon Ramirez, who kindly provided a Google Map with our march route outlined and a calculated distance of, trumpets please, 5.4 km.

Seniors rock, Judy said, and I agreed, emailing back that we should march again soon—“march” sounding rather grand, because we were really walking somewhat leisurely.

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Seeing joggers racing down the road in their Lycras can make nerds and seniors rather insecure, discouraged to take up any kind of physical activity. We forget that walking is very good exercise, with many benefits for the elderly.

I found the best summary of the benefits on upliftingmobility.com. Walking does the following: stop bone mass loss (especially important for women, who are more prone to osteoporosis), strengthens muscles, improves blood circulation (which means lower blood pressure and less risk for heart disease), helps in losing weight, improves sleep.

Catch your breath now as we go through the other benefits: increases mental sharpness, improves joint support (especially important for our knees), improves balance and stability (which means fewer falls, which can be so dangerous for the elderly).

The last two benefits are general: increased lifespan and—I like this last one—it makes you happier.

The happy part comes from taking in nature and the greenery, which puts city people at a disadvantage. But happiness comes as well from walking with friends and loved ones, which I would advise especially for older people. Don’t forget that loved ones can include our four-legged best friends, although you have to make sure they’re trained not to dash off with you in a desperate chase.

For a religious country like the Philippines, consider walking pilgrimages, which will involve greater distances and which can be spread out across a day or more. One rigorous pilgrimage is the Camino de Santiago or the Way of St. James, with the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain as the destination, where St. James’ remains are interred.

More or less, the complete route is 780-km long, but you can take shorter routes to hike or bike for as short a pilgrimage as three days. A friend of mine—yes, a senior citizen—took a two-week pilgrimage some years back, and was updating me every few days on the food and wine he and his friends were taking along the way!

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Our Department of Tourism has been talking about faith-based tourism, and I do see potential with so many shrines in the country. If we work out a walking component, we could actually attract more pilgrims, with longer stays. We will, however, need to work on getting communities involved with homestays and security.

Into her 80s, my mother walked to church every morning for Mass, her version of a walking pilgrimage. She lived to be 98.

The medical research on walking suggests that all you need is about half an hour a day to get some benefits. “Brisk walking” is suggested in some studies, but I’d think leisurely walking is fine, too. My colleague Anita Hardon of the University of Amsterdam takes her thesis students on long “advising” walks—good for her and good for the students, too.

We should also get into a mindset of walking whenever an opportunity arises. My drivers have grown used to me jumping out of the car during traffic jams and walking the remaining distance, even if it’s a kilometer away. Yes, it helps having a face mask because of the pollution.

I do worry about the young, especially the upper classes, who walk only while shopping. In UP Diliman, we have traffic jams because the chauffeurs insist on dropping off their señorito and señorita at the entrance to buildings.

Oh, do use apps on your phones to see how far you’ve walked, and celebrate when you find yourself beating a previous record. Body pains are a sign you’re out of condition, so don’t give up yet. Even with those pains, you’ll actually find yourself feeling better and more alive.

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TAGS: exercise, health, Walking
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