“Walking is man’s best medicine.” Hippocrates
“If there is a panacea in medicine it is walking” Norman Doidge
If you place an exercise wheel in a rat’s cage, it will use it. They naturally want to move. A rat that uses a wheel is much more mentally and physically healthy than a rat caged without one. It is also more resilient to stress, and will live longer. However, the use of the wheel must be voluntary. If the rat feels forced, the exercise becomes stressful, and the benefits disappear. Sometimes I have to remind myself that I have a wheel in my cage, and it is the block that I live on. Merely walking around your block a few times a day can vastly improve your mental and physical health. Modern day hunter gatherers average around 19 miles a day of walking and trotting every day. Like all mammals we were designed to move.
Some doctors urge patients to take 10,000 steps each day. This equates to about 5 miles and takes about an hour and a half. In my opinion this is excessive if it happens daily. Most people quickly develop knee and ankle pain at this rate. Instead, shoot for a healthy fraction of this, perhaps between 3 and 7,000 steps. Mortality rates have been shown to improve progressively with the number of steps taken daily (Lee et. al., 2019). However, this positive effect levels off after approximately 6,000 steps (3 miles) per day. This means that you certainly don’t need to walk a full 10,000 steps each day to benefit.
In Chapter 18 we will discuss the panoply of health benefits that come from regular exercise. The rest of this chapter will discuss how to walk assertively, with impeccable posture, and how you can turn your time walking into constructive antifrailty.
Using Good Posture in Public
Whenever we encounter someone the first impulse is to query: “friend or foe?” Unconscious circuits in the brain work to decide: “Are they going to attack me?” “Are they easily provoked?” “Are they analyzing me, waiting for me to submit before they decide whether to be hostile?” Then we try to determine if they did have ill intentions would they have the power to enact them? In other words, we size them up to see which one of us would prevail in a physical altercation. Often regardless of whether we think we could win, we let our posture cave in. Don’t do any of these things.
Psychologists, criminologists, and law enforcement personnel agree that walking like a victim increases the likelihood that you’ll be mugged, or assaulted. They recommend that we “walk with a purpose.” Studies have shown that criminals can identify people with histories of victimization by their gait (Ritchiea et al., 2019). They walk like an easy target: asynchronously, timidly, with short strides. Depressed people also have a characteristic way of walking. They have reduced walking speed, stride length, vertical head movement, and arm movement at the shoulder and elbow (Michalak et al., 2009). When you walk, do the exact opposite. People that walk like depressed victims are advertising their victimization so that others can see that they don’t want to compete. They are communicating that they will give in to a bully. But the same self-handicapping that will repel a competitor will attract a predator. There’s a fundamental trade off to posture intended to avoid competition, and that is being ripe for predation.
Walk spryly with non-chalant control and balance. Expand your body. In becoming more expansive channel a peacock fanning its tail feathers, a cat galloping sideways, or a chimpanzee romping through foliage. Extend your neck and openly display your chest, this gives a signal to others that you are not afraid of being attacked. Hands placed near the hips show readiness for action, hands behind the back signify confidence. Head erect, and neck retracted, demonstrate the posture of a military general, an elite athlete, or royalty. Think imperial, dignified, regal. Visualize yourself emanating gravitas and a commanding presence. Good posture leads others to assume that you must have much to be confident about, and they will accept what you project.
When I first went out on long walks exaggerating my posture, standing tall, and looking upwards, I could tell that other pedestrians questioned my motives, looking suspicious or even offended. Some people seemed incensed seeing me standing erect and looking upwards. My posture looked fake because I was forcing myself to stand straight without the healthy postural tone that should accompany it. Ironically the best way to develop this musculature is to fake it, standing straighter and taller than our body is used to. Once the postural muscles become stronger, standing erect will look genuine, and people will not question it.
Don’t take it overboard. Other pedestrians may be provoked if they can tell that some of your nonverbals are consistent with overcompensation. They may assume that you are putting on a ruse and feel compelled to put you back in your place. You don’t want this either, this is why it is important to be measured and conservative as you gradually transform your victim walk into a victor walk. This is also why, at first, I chose to walk and stretch in uncrowded, outdoor places either at dusk or after dark. Find a safe, well-lit park or boulevard where you still have the bit of privacy you need to really strut and swagger.
|Walking Exercise # 1: Take A Walk with Exaggerated Posture|
|Take a walk in an area where you don’t have to worry about other people judging your posture. Walk for two minutes with greatly exaggerated posture. Stand tall and straight. Feel the animal strength in your body. Afterwards continue to walk but rest your postural muscles completely for at least a minute. Repeat.|
|Duration: Ten minutes. Proficiency: Two sessions per week for six weeks. Maintenance: Two times per month.|
There are many ways to multitask while walking. Walking with other people is a great way to bond. You can help each other to develop mutually assertive, out-of-doors, power-walking body language. Or you can turn your time walking into an opportunity for learning if you decide to listen to audiobooks using headphones. Instead of taking your phone calls in bed, or on the couch, take them as you walk around your neighborhood. A headset with a microphone boom, or blutooth earphone can make this easy. Additionally you can use the act of walking to create a breathing metronome. For instance, I often inhale for 5 steps and then exhale for 8.
Own the Space Around You
It is very common to see a monkey feeding peacefully in one spot, but then get up and leave when approached by another monkey who then takes that spot. Behavioral biologists have a word for when one animal makes another animal move. It is called “displacement.” It happens when a subordinate animal uses its knowledge of the hierarchy to determine that a confrontation should be avoided. It allows the other animal to evict it from the physical space it was occupying. Preferred spaces can involve food, like a prime spot of grass. They can involve mates, like a spot closer to a fertile female. Sometimes animals are forced to move from completely unremarkable spaces, where they just happen to be. Don’t allow anyone to evict you from where you happen to be.
Be thoughtful when passing people, share space, open doors, move over to accommodate couples or to make room for families. However, don’t displace yourself to appease an imposing person any more than you would for someone who wasn’t imposing. Hold your ground and don’t move out of the way more than the other person does. Own not only your immediate space but, when walking, your entire forward trajectory through space. It may feel like you are flouting social customs, but remember that you are not doing anything illegal. You are actually doing invaluable internal work increasing the boundaries of your comfort zone. When you inevitably bump into someone, be firm but congenial about it.
Many people have told me that my cat is the calmest they have ever seen. This may be because I am calm around him, I treat him like a friend, and I pet him firmly, fluidly, and slowly. But I think the main reason for his composure is I respect his space. I make an effort not to step over him or walk so close to him that he fears being trampled. I give him authority over his immediate area and this gives him a shield of certainty and control. Take his shield for yourself, wherever you go. Feel complete ownership of the space around you. Wherever you are is your territory because you are in it.
Perform Neck Exercises While Walking
Most of the exercises in this book can be performed while walking, but the following exercises are specifically for your walks.
Many people are afraid of lifting their arms in the air due to status concerns. This disuse results in muscle inactivity and constitutes a form of trauma. The following exercise will invalidate that fear in a matter of minutes. While walking, extend the arms directly above the head with the neck retracted (the first exercise listed below). This will transform your upper body posture. Do this for five to ten minutes during every walk. You will find that after 3 cumulative hours of holding your arms in the air that your neck is completely resituated.
|Walking Exercise #2: Neck Antifrailty While Walking|
|Simply raise the hands and arms directly above the head for a few minutes at a time with the neck retracted. You can touch your shoulders to your ears, or hold your hands slightly outward making a “V” for victory.|
|Hug yourself. Try to place your hands on your shoulder blades. Inch you fingers toward your spine. Do so while varying the retraction of your neck, and the position of your shoulders.|
|Arch the chest inward (thoracic kyphosis) as far as it will go. Hugging yourself should give you an idea of how to do this. Arching the chest is called a “hollow” in gymnastics. Next, do the opposite, and arch the chest outward. Then do it laterally to each side.|
|Clasp the hands together in front of you and form another inward chest arch or hollow. This time extend the arms as far forward as they will go to contract dormant muscles along the collar bone and shoulder girdle.|
|Place one hand in the air, and the other at your waist. Reach as high as you can with the hand in the air, and as low as you can with your hand at your waist. Pivot around in this position hunting for frailty to contract into. Switch arms.|
|Stand straight with the elbows bent. As you press them toward the ground, make small circles with the elbows as if you were flapping chicken wings. Scour for frailty in the area between your neck and shoulder blades.|
|Duration: Ten minutes. Proficiency: Two sessions per week for six weeks. Maintenance: Two times per month.|
Refresh While Walking
Walking requires only a very narrow range of motion from your spine. The tension created by walking within a narrow range pulls a misaligned spine further out of alignment. This is why the longer you walk, the more you ache. Simply squatting momentarily, or reaching over to touch your toes can completely relieve this by pushing the muscles through their full range. This is why I highly recommend that you hold a ten second squat, and do five toe touches for every half mile that you walk.
When you are ready to take your break from walking, stop and place your fists on your lower back with your elbows at 90 degrees and pointed behind you. Bend backwards in this position pressing your fists into your mid back for 5 to 15 seconds. Then to achieve a counterpose, slowly bend forward and touch your toes. To make this easier you can support your descent by placing your hands on your upper thighs, and slide your hands over your knees, down the shins, and toward the feet. Stop for a second in “forward fold” and then raise up the way that you went in. For a variation, try this with your legs spread two to three feet apart, or try it with one leg two feet in front of the other.
Bent Over Walking will Tap Into Your Lower Back Pain
There is a particular lumbar position that will reach into the core of your lower back frailty. Maintaining this position while walking will work out the kinks. To assume the position, bend over from the waist (not the hip), and enter lumbar kyphosis (shrimp back). While you do this try to keep your glutes contracted while taking small step. As long as you ensure that you remain in lumbar kyphosis you will engage many muscles surrounding the iliac crest. This will make you feel like a very old person because of an intensely brittle feeling in your lower back as you plant each foot. For safety’s sake, this bent over walking should be done very carefully and just a little at a time at first. As you rehab this configuration you can become more ambitious by bending over further and funneling more power into each stride. This is risky because you can easily pull a muscle. However, if you are careful it is a very powerful form of rehab that can help you reclaim the lumbar mobility of your early childhood.
Experiment with walking with both extreme lumbar kyphosis and lordosis. This can also be done on a stair climber, treadmill, or elliptical machine at a low speed setting. Carefully curl your lumbar spine either backwards or forwards while on the machine as if you were doing the “cow” or “cat” poses while moving. Start slowly and carefully and breathe through the pinch you find during each cycle of locomotion.
Keep Your Feet Straight and Vary the Way You Use Them to Walk
We take every step in almost the exact same repetitive manner with very little movement of the foot. We do this despite the foot’s incredible potential for mobility. Each foot has thirty-two joints, fifty-six ligaments, and thirty-eight muscles. Many of these are largely immobile in most people. The best way to reengage dormant muscle in the feet, ankles, and knees is to spend a few minutes a day walking in various ways. Walk for two minutes with more weight on the outer edge of the foot (supination). Then walk for a while on the inside edge (pronation). Walk with more weight on the heel, then with more weight on the ball of the foot. Strengthening each of these will help your body to find a happy balance and the most efficient configuration for walking.
During normal walking your feet should face directly forward. My feet were dramatically turned out. I was able to fix this completely after only two weeks of walking just 2 minutes a day while concentrating mindfully to ensure that my feet remained straight. To strengthen both tendencies you might want to walk for a few minutes with the toes turned out, and then with them turned in. As with forward bends and back bends, gently training the extremes will help the body naturally find the ideal midline.
Get orthotic insoles prescribed for your shoes. You can get them from a podiatrist or your local drug store. Wear these arch-supporting inserts less than half the time. Again, you strengthen and cross-train your feet by exposing them to both conditions.
Every step we take is supposed to be powered by a firm gluteal contraction, but most of us have learned to walk without activating the glutes at all. Adding a gluteal contraction at the end of each step is known as glidewalking. To practice this you want to take long strides with a straight back leg that thrusts you forward due to the extension occurring at the butt. To ensure that this happens place your hands just above your back pockets. Cover the top half of each of your glutes with your fingers. Walk so that you feel the top of each gluteus ball up with every step. After a few months of sporadically reminding yourself to train this you will put your hand on your glute while walking and feel it ball up vigorously. Over time your glutes will become toned and brawny and will add stability and power to your stride.
The same goes for the calves. Most people have engineered a firm calf contraction out of their step. Pushing off the ground with the calf muscles of the back leg will challenge and develop them. The heel should make first contact with the ground. Then you should roll forward across the length of the foot to the toes. As this happens the calf should move through its full range of motion. The calf should be fully extended as you push the ground away with the ball of your foot. Even the toes should contract slightly at the end of each step to help propel you forward. When the toes and calf contract the glute should contract at the same time.
Arm swing is another essential biomechanical component of efficient walking. People reduce arm swing as a subordination display. Swing your arms whenever you are walking, and ensure that as you do it, your shoulders are pressed toward the floor.
Conserve Your Momentum While Walking
Notice the way you kick your foot out with each step. Rather than being smooth and graceful, it is likely a violent jerk. This is a major cause of knee pain. You can address it by noticing the jarring motion and trying to transform it into a gentle, velvety one. Strolling very slowly helps build the coordination needed. As in tai chi, slow everything down and pay attention to the fluidity of the movement. Your routines (e.g. walking) cannot be efficient unless their component subroutines (e.g. extending the knee) are optimal themselves. You might feel uncoordinated when you start to slow things down and focus on the individual parts of each action. That’s ok. Relearn how to accomplish the smallest motor movements in ways that don’t use anxiety for propulsion.
Placing your foot too far in front of the body, known as over-striding, is one of the most common mistakes that people make when walking. It slows your momentum. Some people understride. So pay careful attention to the fluidity created by stride length and try to optimize it.
You should also be taking full advantage of your body’s inertia. Your forward motion while walking or running should be generated by a literal fall where you are actually tipping forward very briefly and then catching yourself with each step. Practice giving in to gravity for an instant and then deftly swing your leg out to make contact with the ground at the last second.
Most people walk without conserving their momentum. They break the momentum they have going with each indecisive stride. Take some time to analyze how you lose momentum in your default walking pattern. Use the proprioceptive sensors in your calves, feet, and ankles to help you determine how much momentum from the last step can be reused in the next step. This will turn your stride into a buoyant saunter, and override the hesitancy deriving from inferiority signaling. Allay any worries that people will think that you are walking in an aggressive, angry way. It is not angry at all, it is merely efficient. Don’t hobble. Coast. Set sail on your own momentum, and ride like the wind.
Chapter 17: Bullet Points
- Walking is highly health promoting.
- Strut and swagger while you walk to build confidence.
- Walk with exaggerated solider-like posture for two minutes. Then allow the muscles at least a minute to rest. Repeat.
- Perform upper body antifrailty while you walk.
- Walking regularly with your hands in the air and the neck retracted will put your cervical and thoracic spine into optimal configuration.
- When you walk for prolonged periods take breaks to refresh your muscles. Squating and toe touches will refresh spinal sections that have become stale.
- Practice glidewalking where the glute, calf, and toes of the back leg are fully deployed with every step.
- Walk with both feet pointing straight ahead.
- Capture the remaining momentum from each stride so that it can be applied to the next.