The benefits of walking

This simple exercise can keep people of all ages going for years to come

We walk everyday. We walk from our bedroom to the washroom. We walk from the front door to the car. We walk from the parking lot to the store. We walk all the time.

But did you ever think of all that walking as exercise? Because it is.

We already walk everyday as we go from place to place, but we can use it as a relaxing and simple form of exercise as well.

Take it beyond the everyday walking that’s necessary to get from one place to the next – perhaps take a walk around the block, or take the stairs instead of the elevator – and you have just become more physically active.

Walking is an exercise that can appeal to people of all ages. Shannon Lebel, 22, and George McConnell, 80, have nearly 60 years between them, but they both choose to exercise by walking.

“I had a heart attack, and I was told in five years I’d need a bypass,” McConnell says. “I went to a heart rehabilitation centre, and they put you on exercise there, and I’ve been on that ever since.”

Over 15 years later, McConnell has never needed that bypass.

He is a mall walker. He wakes up early five days a week to spend an hour each day walking inside Sherway Gardens. He started walking outdoors, but has been a devoted mall walker for 15 years.

“If you walk outside, which I started doing at first, you meet too many people you know,” he says. “And once you start, you’ve got to stay with it, you can’t stop, you’ve just got to keep going, keep the heart and body moving.”

McConnell has become the man to go to if you want to mall walk at Sherway Gardens. He’ll sign you up for the program, called Heart Walk, for a yearly fee of $5. They also have seminars every two months and a picnic in the summer.

It is mainly seniors who come to walk the malls in the early mornings, he says, but for them, it’s not just about the exercise.

“There’s a little more to it than just walking,” he says. “Afterwards we sit down and we talk.”

“Everybody’s in the same boat, everyone’s friendly. There are lots of laughs, and laughs are an important part of living.”

Meanwhile, Lebel says she walks because it is an easy way to be active.

“I do it because it’s better than doing nothing,” she says. “I don’t like running, and to be honest I’m not a gym person. If I went to a gym, I’d need someone there to take me around and show me everything.”

And while McConnell chooses to do his walking indoors, Lebel enjoys spending time outside. A resident of Ajax, she says the waterfront trail encourages her to walk more.

“We have a pretty waterfront here; it’s nice to walk there,” she says. “I wouldn’t want to just do it around my street because I’d find that boring.”

She admits she doesn’t go for walks in the wintertime. The last walk she went on this year was in late October. But in the summer, she tries to go at least three times a week.

“Sometimes I try to run, but I only last like 30 seconds,” she says. “But I can walk for two hours without feeling too sore or anything.”

Paul Poposki is a personal trainer. He says walking can definitely be good exercise, especially for people who don’t have a high level of fitness, or people who have cardiovascular health issues. But for people who are relatively fit already, walking won’t have a great effect.

“I’d first see where their fitness level is at and what their goals are,” Poposki says. “If it’s endurance, cardiovascular stuff, and they were pretty fit, I’d probably not recommend walking. Instead I’d use it as a warm-up, and go more in depth with cardio.”

For someone who wants to get in shape and burn calories by walking, Poposki suggests walking and jogging in intervals – walk for five minutes, jog for five minutes, and so on. He says you will see greater results that way.

Beyond the benefits that come from walking as exercise, Poposki recognizes there are other positives as well.

“It helps you in meeting people in the area, and seeing things you don’t normally see,” he says. “If you drive by, you don’t tend to see things as opposed to walking. I find when I walk in a neighbourhood, I do notice a lot more things.”

Lebel also says she enjoys going for walks not just because they’re good for the body, but because they’re peaceful and give her a chance to get away from life for a little while.

“It’s good for your health, to get fresh air and go outside,” she says. “It’s also good for your mind, I find it relaxing. And when I go by myself, it’s also time for me.

“I can kind of think without thinking, just let my mind wander. It’s good to get away from people; nobody bothers you while you’re out there.”

And for McConnell, walking gives him a chance to be active and socialize at the same time. He says he would definitely recommend walking to anyone who wants to be active.

So no matter what your level of fitness is, or how old you are, there are benefits to walking. Poposki says going for walks is always a good thing – just be sure to go at your own pace.

We walk everyday. Maybe it’s time to take that skill and go for a full-fledged walk. Like McConnell and Lebel, you just might enjoy yourself.