For many baby boomers, the day begins with unpredictable aches and pains. A 58-year-old new patient of mine recently told me that it feels like his body has launched an unprovoked work-to-rule campaign. On any given morning, some body parts function as they always have and others, for no apparent reason, simply do not. Somewhere north of 50, you may find that putting your socks on in the morning suddenly tests your physical capabilities in new and unpleasant ways.
Commonly mixed in with age-related early morning pain and stiffness are feelings of disappointment and embarrassment. You question, "How did I end up here? Where did the younger version of myself go?" However, as you recognize and accept the realities of aging, another question may take shape: "How can I slow down the rate of age-related decline?"
What if a pharmaceutical company were to sell an anti-aging prescription drug designed to do just that? What if this miracle pill also promised to prevent, or manage, heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, help you maintain a healthy weight, strengthen your bones and muscles, improve your mood and enhance your balance and co-ordination and all with no side-effects? There would be no end to the demand for this product.
Interestingly enough, this miracle intervention does exist and has for some time. Not only are the results undisputed, but it comes at no cost to the user. Here is the twist. It does not come as a pill to be swallowed. It is a call to action. Written on your family doctor's prescription pad, it would simply read walk every day. While you may still need medication prescribed by your doctor to treat what ails you, walking will help improve your health.
The body is made for movement. Do not let the simplicity of this prescription fool you. Daily walking is powerful in its own right. Walking improves cardiac risk factors such as cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, vascular stiffness and inflammation, and mental stress. And if cardiac health and a lower death rate are not enough to get you on your feet, consider that walking also helps protect against dementia, peripheral artery disease, depression, colon cancer and even erectile dysfunction.
So, how do you get moving, if movement hurts?
Prepare your mind and body
Look for opportunities to walk. With each step your health improves. Start walking slowly for the first five to 10 minutes as a warm-up. Pay attention to your posture and stride. Walk with your head up and eyes focused on the horizon. Keep your core engaged and back straight while swinging your arms with a relaxed bend at the elbow. A slight external rotation of your arms will help protect your back. Keep your feet happy: Invest in a good pair of walking shoes.
Set a goal to walk every day
For some, walking to the end of their driveway and back is where this journey begins. Don't let this discourage you. You might start with five minutes a day for the first week, adding five minutes each week until you are able to walk 30 minutes each day. If finding a 30-minute block of time in your day represents a barrier, break the activity into three 10-minute power walks.
Monitor your progress
Buy a pedometer and track your steps and distance per day. Tracking your progress will keep you focused on the bigger picture.
Fuel your motivation
Find a walking partner. Walk on your lunch break. Try different routes. Make a commitment to walk every day and reward yourself at regular intervals for sticking with it.
Cool down and stretch
Towards the end of your walk, slow down your pace for the final five minutes to cool down. Gently stretch at the end of your walk. Ask your health-care provider for specific instructions on cool-down stretching.
Dr. Dwight Chapin is the clinic director of High Point Wellness Centre in Mississauga, team chiropractor for the CFL's Toronto Argonauts and on-site clinician for employees of The Globe and Mail. Follow him on Twitter @HighPtWellness.