Walking. We do it all the time. Most of us take walking for granted and don’t think about it.
Yet, walking is so important to health that it deserves a lot more consideration.
How do you walk? Do you stroll along with friends on a summer evening, laughing and chatting as you go? Is your life more hectic with walking more of a hurried pace that gets you from your car or the bus to work or school?
Why not take a new approach to walking and make it a meaningful activity that can boost your energy and your fun level, too?
Savannah resident Sandy Haeger introduced a new way of walking to participants in the Canyon Ranch Institute Life Enhancement Program at Curtis V. Cooper Primary Health Care. Participants join Haeger for Saturday morning walks. They may have been a little surprised when she introduced them to techniques such as jelly bean circles, hip rolls and long steps in their weekly hour-long walks.
Haeger, who is a certified exercise specialist, applies her expertise to help her charges take walking to a whole new level.
You, too, can put a boost into walking. Be sure to wear walking shoes that give your feet proper support. Wear comfortable clothing, and take along a full water bottle so you can stay hydrated. Plan your route in an area you know. You can try new areas as your walking program develops.
Add some of Haeger’s extras to your walk for extra benefit:
• “Heel, ball, toe.” Say it aloud as you go. When we concentrate on using the entire foot this way, we engage more muscles from the foot to the hip. You may bob up and down a bit at first, but as you become used to the motion, you’ll find your stride evens out and becomes more efficient.
• Step out. Take a long step. Contract (squeeze) your buttock muscles (your glutes). They are the muscles that will help you walk and stay upright for life. Hold the step forward and practice balance. Tighten your glutes and keep your abdominal muscles tight. Bring the back foot forward. With your feet together, tighten all of your core muscles. Take a moment to hold that contraction. Repeat on the other side.
• Reverse it. This one takes the help of a friend or family member. Pick a level, safe place without other people close by. Face your partner and lightly hold hands. Walk backward, trusting your partner to steer you or give you verbal directions as needed. Then switch places. You may find this activity is a challenge to your balance, but with practice comes improvement.
• Line dancing. Again, be conscious of your surroundings so that you’ll have solid, smooth footing. Stand tall with your chest and chin lifted. Step side to side. Take two steps to the left then two to the right. Make up any combination you like. Haeger encourages putting a little attitude into your movements to push up the fun factor.
• March like you mean it. Find a wall, tree or other stationary object to touch or hold onto for balance. Lift one knee with your foot flexed, touch down and lift again. Always keep the toes of the foot you’re lifting in sight in front of you to help maintain a good position. Change legs.
As your walk continues, you can add other movements, such as marching in place, doing bicep and tricep curls as you walk or doing hip rolls as you wait for the traffic light to change.
Haeger’s upbeat walks are popular with the CRI LEP participants, and regular walker Lisa Reid has added her own style by drawing on her military experience to put a cadence into the walks that motivates others in the group to maintain the pace.
“We always get attention when we walk. And the fun is what keeps you going,” Reid said. “Before you know it, the hour is over, and you feel like you could go on longer.”
Going for walks can be eye-opening in other ways. Reid recalled friends driving by the walking group and calling out words of encouragement.
“We see gardens and historic houses and parts of Savannah we’ve never seen before,” she said. “When you’re driving or riding a bus, the surroundings go by in a blur. When you walk, you fill your lungs with fresh air and your eyes with new sights.”
If you want to boost your daily activity level and enjoy Savannah in a healthy way, get out and take a walk. Our many visitors do it. Haeger and her CRI LEP Walking Club do it. Join the movement. As Reid said, “It’s electrically contagious!”
McIntire is the Canyon Ranch Institute senior advisor for outreach. Haeger is a Savannah resident, Canyon Ranch Institute Life Enhancement Program volunteer and certified exercise specialist.