Walking - the Taichi Way

By: Yip See Kit

Labor Day is just round the corner, and what is more better way to spend this holiday outdoor than taking a walk at the park with the whole family. There have been researches done, where 10,000 steps a day or at least 30min of walking a day for at least 3 times a week to offer tremendous benefits such as improved cardiovascular endurance, improved blood cholesterol, lowered blood pressure, increased metabolic rate etc.

While walking is considered as a form of weight-bearing exercise, research has shown that walking program for up to one year have generally not been very effective in preventing bone loss, especially for the healthy individual. The main reason is that walking does not actually impart a very high loading force onto the bones; neither does it represent a unique loading stimulus. Nevertheless, this does not exclude the possibilities that long term habitual walking for many years helps to preserve loss of bone mass.

Although running and jogging are great weight bearing exercises and effective for burning calories, however for unfit person to start off with, they are often considered to be too energy demanding. Exercises that are high intensity cause the body to burn more carbohydrates. It is more advisable for them to start off with walking at low to moderate intensity slowly progressively increase to high intensity walking. This is to allow for adaptation of the body.

This is especially true for beginners who are new to exercise or have never engaged in any high intensity exercise before. Many obese or sedentary people tend to have a decreased fitness level. This is mainly due to a lack of exercising over time which caused the muscles and energy system to lose efficiency. For this reason many exercises are simply too intense when initiating a weight loss exercise program.

Moderate walking intensity at the average speed of 4km/hr to 5 km/hr is considered aerobic in nature and helps in burning calories all the way, that also helps in maintaining or losing weight. Another way to look at the intensity of walking is by using the heart rate. Moderate intensity is where you are walking at 45% - 55% of the maximum heart rate and experiencing slight difficulty in breathing than usual but is still able to keep up a full conversation. High intensity is where you are walking at 65% - 75% of maximum heart rate and you are only able to speak in short sentences. Effective walking intensity is best achieved with a heart rate monitor so as to keep the body at optimum fat burning.

All these while, we have been discussing on the benefits of walking exercise but did not really touch on the techniques of walk. A lot of people might have the question that why walking still need to be taught, where in actual fact, many people actually have been walking the wrong way all this while.

Even before we start our walking exercise, proper warming up and stretching techniques need to be included. This is to allow for the body to condition and prepare for the walking exercise. Subsequently, after completing the walking exercise, cooling down exercises is also a must to ensure a complete exercise routine.

When we talk about walking correctly, we are actually referring to anatomically correct posture alignment. Here, we shall be using Taichi principles into our walking alignment. Firstly, the walking feet should be in parallel and not pronated outwards or inwards. This is the area where lot of people found this difficult to correct, which is mainly due to the lack of range of motion (ROM) in our hip joint, where we could have increased our flexibility and ROM through stretching during the warming up session.

The body should also maintain erect, with neutral spine and shoulders relaxed. The head, shoulders, hip, knee and ankle should form a straight line, where this is also part of the requirement in Taichi practice. By incorporating these principles into the Taichi walking exercises, it allows us to align and correct our poor posture. It will take a while for the body to adapt and habitualise, which depends on individual.

When the body has adapted and habitualised the correct Taichi walking posture alignment, it can then be applied to even our daily walking and maintained to old age. The same fundamental principles also apply when it comes to running and jogging where we will not talk in details.

In conclusion, there is no doubt on the numerous benefits of walking exercises when walking with the correct intensity and frequency. To make the whole walking exercise even more effective and beneficial, we can apply the Taichi way of walking.

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