Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Walk this way

After 78 years I thought I knew how to walk. Apparently I was mistaken.
This despite the fact that as long as I can remember, walking or hiking has been one of the joys of my life. When Joan and I lived in Calgary, hiking in the Rockies was the great family activity during the summer months when the mountain passes were not plugged with snow. In the four national parks a short drive from Calgary—the Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho parks—there are some 2,000 miles of hiking trails. Over the years we hiked along a good part of them.
A disability now prevents Joan from joining me on such walks, to my great sorrow. But I still enjoy solitary rambles. In October, I walked 19 miles along the trail of a former railway that stretches almost six miles from our town of Lindsay to Haliburton.
As I grow older, however, my pace seems to be slower. Either that or younger people are walking faster than ever before—if you can believe that.
I occasionally drive to Toronto to research at the University of Toronto’s big Robarts library. I park a few blocks away and walk to the library at what feels to me to be a determinly brisk pace. Young whippersnappers, guys and gals alike, pass by me as if I were dawdling. And they do it so effortlessly, not seeming to hurry at all..
The secret, apparently, is in the length of the step. I had never thought about that. Walking always been as unconsciously performed as breathing.
But when we try to walk faster, most of us go at it the wrong way, according to Deena and David Balboa in their book, Walk for Life: the Lifetime Walking Program for a Healthy Body and Mind. Most of us take longer steps when we try to walk faster, when we should be taking shorter, quicker steps, according to the Balboas. With our lengthen strides, we go at it with grim determination, “wildly and counter-productively pumping” our arms. But walking, they say, can be more natural, graceful, relaxing, pleasurable—and faster than the tensed up military marchers.
I decided to test the theory.
The first couple of miles of the railway trail near our house where I regularly walk are paved, and there is a marked one-kilometre section. I walked the one kilometre with short, quick steps as fast as I could. Ten minutes. On the dot. I walked back with longest, fastest strides I could make. Eleven minutes. And I was starting to feel exhausted, my legs were starting to tire, and I was starting to slow, despite myself. There seems little doubt in my mind that over a longer distance, the difference in speed between long and short strides would be even greater.
So that’s how I learned how to walk quicker.
Does that mean I’ll be able to keep pace with younger folk? Not likely.

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