Walking matters: We die from the feet up

Almost 1 in 3 US children have never climbed a tree or planted or cared for a tree.

To walk is human nature.  Anyone who can, does, even if it’s just from air-conditioning office to car to apartment, but how far or how fast is ideal for health?

Our ancient ancestors peopled the globe walking or running every step, from out of Africa.

I can imagine some stopping along the way if they found a good spot or when elders might be slowing down.  Enduring human values.  Continuing this story, unknown horizons would nave beckoned.  The adventurous young warrior bulls fed up with the mind-cave of crusty despotic elders:  “So Bro, let’s go.  What is around the other side of the hill?”

Maybe nobody, or an unexpected interaction with a group of Denisovans or Neanderthals.  And interbreeding.  Was it consensual or rape?  Whatever, the advancing dominant Cro-Magnons mutated and multiplied.  The others vanished.

Some travellers perhaps took 10,000 years to walk from Africa to Australia and not even in a straight line.  Aboriginal DNA has a Denisovan contribution, suggesting an interaction somewhere around Siberia on that long walk.

Back to now.  Walking with purpose is the best way to stay alive longer and healthier and is mostly safe.  Add hills or steps for a cardio component.  Suboptimal habits include slouching, dragging feet, head thrust forward, hunched shoulders or mouth breathing.  Basic training in awareness and posture can change the whole game.

Having somewhere nice to walk makes all the difference too, away from noise, fumes and danger of traffic.  Forrest can be difficult to access but tracks abound in our wonderful national parks, something to consider to stop, revive, and survive in that long drive.  Urban ovals and parks offer good opportunities.  Someday our Northern Rivers will have a rail-trail for us to walk unfenced, like our ancestors, for miles and miles.

On the golf course some ride between holes in an electric buggy.  Why walk when you can ride?  Conversely, people in walking groups get great pleasure from the walking, talking and sharing energy, as well as discovering quaint places.

Walking works the lower body.  The upper body needs more.  Our ancestors climbed.  One way is Nordic Poles for hiking, to transform walking into a whole-body activity, the arms extend into quasi-front legs.  My mate Ron has such terrible hop arthritis he was advised to have bilateral joint replacements.  He live in bush on the side of a rugged steep hill and could hardly get around.  Nordic Poles give him stability with mobility and breather from surgery.  Ron gets around at such a clip it’s hard to keep up.

Early humans would have been very good runners, for scouting and hunting.  Running engages the body’s entire myofascial complex.  But today, is it a safe and healthy practice?  Those who have been on the run all their lives will answer, ‘Why should I stop just because I’m 65 or 75?’

But what about everybody else, those who have only ever urn for the bus or to snatch a child from impending peril?  It’s a use it or lose it thing because untrained muscles can give way.  For example, one day walking on the beach, such a beautiful day and feeling good with the world, it felt like having a little run, something I hadn’t done for years.

‘Why not?  I said to myself and took off at a sprint, meaning to stop when puffed, something cardiogenic and a personal challenge.  After about a dozen paces, I suddenly felt someone kick me hard in the calf muscle.  Spinning around, I found only myself on the empty beach.  Straightaway I knew what had happened because patients in Emergency with similar stories had the same diagnosis, damage to the Achilles tendon.  Walking home was slow and painful.  Full recovery took a year and a moonboot.

Walking matters.  Tai-Chi Master Rod counselled, ‘We die from the feet up.’

He also said, “the slower the walk, the closer to death.’ Legwork plays a big part in continuing health.  It may benefit brain health more than a crossword.

Scientific research indicates that legs at work send signals to the brain, vital for the production of healthy neural cells.

David Miller

(David is a retired medical practitioner)

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