My primary purpose in writing these columns is to offer practical functional information to improve your health and your daily life.
For that purpose, I’ve not written a more important column.
Walking, with good posture and a clear mind, is the most beneficial activity we can do.
Doing this will address–and this is straight from research by the Mayo Clinic, Harvard Medical School and The Arthritis Foundation:
- Weight management
- High Blood Pressure
- Heart Disease
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Bone Density (osteopenia/osteoporosis)
- Functional Muscle Strength
- Mood Disorders (anxiety/depression)
- Joint Pain (including arthritis)
- Immune System
The Specifics. As Mr. Einstein so wryly put it: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” So let’s talk about walking with good posture and a clear mind. I’ll start with good posture. All that stuff about shoulders back, stomach in, relax your neck, keep your eyes looking straight ahead and not at the ground, lift your ribs up to separate them from the pelvis—is all good advice but way too much to think about and can be accomplished much more simply. Stand as tall as you can. That’s it. Simple and true. All the above will happen naturally. Feel it. Don’t just read this, stand up and do it. Please. If your low back has been a bit stiff, feel how just standing tall makes it feel better. Now take one step while staying as tall as you can. Simple enough, right?
Maintaining good posture requires just two things—adequate muscle strength and conscious effort. Our muscle system holds our skeleton upright, but not upright enough without some specific focus to counteract the fact that ours is a seated lifestyle culture. We sit to eat, drive, at our desks, to watch TV or sports or shows. We sit in a bent-forward position. A lot. And then, most people focus their exercising on what I call the mirror muscles. We each have more than 600 muscles. A few of them are on the surface; a few are on the front of our bodies. Mirror muscles. They are what we see so they are where we focus. Learning how to balance our body’s alignment by safely and correctly strengthening the muscles on the back is step one. Doing them is step two and will accelerate the capacity to sustain improved posture.
Now, about that conscious effort. This involves that clear mind I initially mentioned. Many of you have read something about meditation or its new westernized and in vogue term: mindfulness. Some of you may practice it. Some of you have tried but just don’t think you can do it. Sitting still like that isn’t for you. But again, the benefits are undeniable. I won’t put you through another list (but it reduces stress, improves concentration, has measurable cardiovascular/heart rate improvement…). I’m going to offer a brief explanation of what it isn’t, what it is and how you may be able to benefit.
What meditation/mindfulness isn’t: relaxing and quietly sitting still while allowing your mind to drift and peacefully wander.
What it is (and why it’s so difficult): disciplining our minds to focus on one thing which will calm all that random careening mental chatter. That “chatter” is the mind’s way of distracting us from controlling it. Like a rebellious child, our mind will resist the discipline. It prefers to wander and play instead of paying attention. Understandable—but doesn’t help us with so much in our lives that benefits from just being where we are without distractions.
First fact to accept: our mind IS going to wander. Meditation/mindfulness is gently bringing it back. It’s not about discouraging the wandering; it IS about gently bringing it back.
OK. What does that have to do with walking with good posture? You took one step. Good job. But when you start walking with a goal of say, 30 minutes, your mind IS going to drift and the focus you’re going to use when you reel it back in is—yep, good posture which we’ve defined as standing as tall as you can while walking. You’ll have to come back to this many times in a 30-minute walk. And this is an excellent way to calmly discipline your thinking while improving yourself physically.
Just try it. Please.