Building Vital Power With Long Walks
( Originally Published 1904 )
NECESSITY OF WALKING PROPERLY WHEN, WHERE AND HOW TO WALK-HOW TO DRESS FOR A LONG WALK-ENERGIZING EFFECT UPON THE BODY OF A LONG WALK.
In my various writings I have frequently referred, to walking as a valuable means of exercise and an aid to the acquirement of vital vigor, but have never attempted to furnish my readers with detailed information on the, subject. As a rule, if one walks a great deal, a proper position of the body will naturally be maintained, though it must be admitted that 'the average man is not enough of a pedestrian to make a correct method of walking a habit. There is a right way to walk just as there is a right way to do anything. Yet no matter how you walk, a certain amount of vigor will be secured from the exercise. -But if you move in a slip shod-manner, if your movements are not harmonious, you" will tire quickly, and will fail to secure the benefits that are easily within your-reach by acquiring a proper gait and position of body. Even those who possess more than the average strength will become exhausted after walking a few miles, if they do not understand the secret of the proper method. In fact, an improper manner of walking will exhaust rather than increase the fund of vitality owned by the body.
My favorite walking costume. Hat in one hand, coat, and shoes in the other. Though not ideal, it was the most convenient under the circumstances when it is remembered that l was compelled near the end of the walk to assume the conventronal manner of dressing.
It is only within the last few years that I have really learned how to walk. In order to do so one must acquire an easy gait, every movement must be rhythmic, and the position of the body must he such that you go forward with strides that are made almost without effort.
Correct attitude while walking, show ing forward incline of the body that should be assumed. The head in this illustration has been held a little too high.
Several years ago I remember that a walk of eight or ten miles would frequently tire me out, and this, in spite of the fact that at the time I was somewhat prominent as an athlete.
Now I can easily walk from eighteen to twenty-five miles, and after a rest of an hour or two feel sufficiently refreshed to cover a similar distance. During the last few months I have been experimenting with the view of accurately determining the effects of long walks upon the vital powers of the body. Ordinarily, five to ten miles a day had been the limit of my walking exercises. But realizing the great value of long walks I concluded to extend them very materially for the purpose of forming more accurate conclusions as to their effects. For some time now I have been taking walks of from fifteen to twenty miles in the morning before going to business, and the more I experiment, the more I am inclined to endorse the exercise as one of an especially valuable nature.
Showing sandals I wear frequently. This style of sandal. though comfortable. is of lrttle value on roads where there is much dust or gravel. Sandals for roads of this kind should hate the entire front of the foot covered.
Even under the most disadvantageous circumstances, a short brisk walk is always beneficial; but a long walk that will take from three to five hours of steady rhythmic movements, considered as a means of rousing the functional system to increased activity, can hardly be improved upon. The vital organs—stomach, heart and lungs are all beneficially affected. All the depurating organs of the body are prompted to healthful action. The blood is cleansed of impurities, the eyes become clearer, the complexion is improved, the flesh firmer, and all parts of the body are augmented in strength and general hardiness.
Several cases have been reported recently where consumption and other serious maladies have been cured by walking. For those who are striving for health, for those in the grasp of a grave chronic disease, no exercise is quite so valuable as walking combined with deep breathing. It is more especially valuable for cases of this kind named because the exercise is difficult to overdo. If you will simply stop when you are tired, nothing but benefit can be derived from it. I do not mean by this that you should cease at the very first moment that you feel a slight twinge of fatigue, but you can continue with benefit until you feel that you can enjoy a rest with a feeling of pleasurable relief. Naturally, any exercise continued to exhaustion cannot be called beneficial, but it requires a vast deal of will power to continue walking to such an extreme.
In this chapter I have tried to illustrate as clearly as possible the proper method of walking. Of course, the average individual believes that he knows how to walk. But I am inclined to think that a careful study of the illustrations and the comments made, will result in many admitting that they do not know how to walk properly. Remember that if you are not maintaining a proper attitude and making perfectly rhythmic movements, you are ignoring the first principles of correct walking.
When assuming the proper attitude the pedestrian inclines his body well forward. For walking should be a continual fall forward just as in running. Each step should save you from a fall, and the body should be always inclined far enough forward to insure a continuance of the movement. The entire form should always be erect, shoulders back, chest prominent, head back and eyes looking straight to the front, unless it is necessary to look to the ground in order to select your path. Many are of the opinion that be-cause an erect attitude is advised in walking, it is necessary to swing the body far backward. This is a serious mistake.
Every step must furnish a progressive propelling power, and if the body is not leaning forward this is impossible. If you will be sure all during your walk that the body is held in this fashion, remembering to make every step appear as though it would save you from falling on your face, then you can rest assured that your gait will be commended by the professional pedestrian.
Of course, it is not easy to break old habits, and it will require close attention for a time in order to assume the attitude I have indicated; but careful attention will make a radical change in a very short time, and after a while it will become natural for you to assume a correct gait.
The benefits of walking are immensely increased if one will form the habit that I have recommended so strongly throughout this hook; that of drawing deep inhalations of pure air, thus filling the lungs to their greatest possible capacity. In another chapter I give illustrated breathing exercises. As a means of in-creasing one's endurance and the general pleasure of a walk, and assisting in the building of greater vital power, the value of such exercises cannot be overestimated. One such illustration shows the position of the body when the waist is drawn in as far as possible and the greater part of the air has been forced from the lungs. It is a comparatively easy exercise. Sim-ply expel all the air that you possibly can from the lungs while walking at your ordinary gait. Next you inhale all you can, expanding from the abdominal region upward, as shown in the second illustration. This exercise will vastly increase your endurance, and as stated, you will derive pleasure and benefit from it.
As has been said elsewhere the lungs furnish the blood with those elements that are essential to continuous muscular effort. This is illustrated very emphatically when one attempts to take very violent exercise. The muscles quickly tire, because of the inability of the functional processes to supply them with sufficient rapidity with those elements that are quickly used up by long continued, violent effort.
Though walking even on brick sidewalks is beneficial, it is far better to do so on the grass or ground if possible. Especially will a walk of considerable distance seem far more difficult on hard pavements of any kind. The proper place to walk is in the country, away from the foul air and the dirt, dust and smoke incidental to urban life. If you live in the city your walk can be made far more pleasurable and beneficial if you will ride out into the country before beginning it. If you are compelled to go to your business at a certain time each day, walk to it instead of riding. A walk of three to six miles in the city, though not so pleasurable nor so beneficial as it would be if taken in the country, is still a hundred times preferable to riding. If you live in the country you are fortunate, for -you can walk almost any distance you choose before arriving at your place of business, -providing, of course, that you do not begin work at a very early hour. If you commence your daily duties at eight or nine o'clock it will not be found difficult to arise at four or five o'clock, and in the interval you can take a long and pleasurable promenade.
I have been living several summers a little over twenty miles from New York, and unless the duties of the day were especially exacting, it has been my usual habit, since I have been experimenting with long walks, to rise between four and six o'clock. Though walking at any time is pleasurable, I must assert that in the early morning hours there is a peculiar, almost intoxicating element in the air which greatly adds to its pleasure. The air seems far more exhilarating at this time of the day. Another special advantage of the early hour in my case was, that my costume was likely to excite the curiosity of the ordinary late riser. Those who leave their beds at four or five a. m. are, as a rule, too busy to be curious. I know many of my readers might suggest that I adopt the costume which I consider best, regardless of conventional criticism, but I must admit that I have hardly advanced that far. I like to attend to my business and my work without molestation. I prefer to be left alone, but if one excites curiosity by adopting extreme reforms, he will always be subject to annoyance. So I start out dressed only for comfort, but I always prepare for making the change necessary in order to enter the city in a conventional garb. I start out with hat in one hand and coat and shoes in the other. Thus equipped, when I arrive at the point where I again wish to enter the realms of so-called civilization, by stopping at a convenient brook by the road it is an easy matter to remove the dust of travel and assume the articles of clothing that qualify one to become one of the conventional human sheep.
But the pleasure and benefit that I derived from all this was well worth the trouble. I will admit that the first fifteen or eighteen-mile walk I attempted tired me, though after a few mornings I was able to cover this distance with but very little fatigue and after a short rest, would hardly notice any undue effects apart from the extraordinary appetite that was induced.
Though nay favorite method was to walk bare-footed, occasionally I have used sandals such as are illustrated in this chapter. Foot-wear of this character, however, can hardly be recommended for wear on a dusty road or one on which there is much gravel or stones. Small particles get into the toes of the sandals and are a considerable annoyance. For ordinary road walking the sandals should have the entire front part of the foot covered.
A method in long distance walking that can undoubtedly be recommended for the reason that it makes it more easy for one to assume the forward in-
cline, the importance of which I have already and so strongly emphasized, is the long stride in walking.
High speed should be avoided. Three and a half biles an hour is as fast as one should walk to secure the greatest possible degree of benefit and pleasure. If you walk faster you are bound to tire quicker, and there is not nearly so much benefit secured from the exercise. A long, easy stride is advised, making every step a little in excess of that which it is your custom to use in ordinary walking.
It is undoubtedly true that the majority of people walk with nervous tension so that the steps they take are jerky and impulsive, and are devoid of rhythm. The same steps, if taken at greater length, will make it possible for the walker to cover more ground with greater ease and less expenditure of nervous energy and will result in a more natural tired feeling than that that follows the short step action.
It might be well to mention to those who wish to follow my example in walking without shoes, that it will be found difficult to do so until the soles of the feet are hardened. The first few attempts must be confined to a very short walk, but before long, a callous surface will form on the bottom of the feet and you will then be able to walk almost any distance barefooted. I must say that I favor walking with-out shoes where the roads are at all smooth. I seem to move with less effort, and do not tire nearly so quickly as when wearing shoes. Of course, if sandals are worn that do not confine the feet, there is not a great deal of difference between them and the bare foot, but no matter how nicely a shoe may fit, it al-ways interferes to a certain extent with the free circulation of the blood and hence its power for evil.
Now, I do not want my enthusiastic readers to at-tempt forthwith to walk from ten to fifteen miles each day, for benefit cannot be derived from essaying this extreme distance at first. Be satisfied at the outset with four or five miles. Try first of all to acquire a proper position before you attempt to cover much distance. In fact, it would be well to avoid trying to see how far you can walk. It is not really distance, but increased vital power that you are endeavoring to acquire. This is the only result that is of any special importance at the moment.
If one is inclined to be too fleshy or "soft," long walks will naturally reduce the weight. If you are too thin they will increase your appetite, and in time increase your weight, though; during the first week or two, if they are regularly taken, your avoirdupois may be reduced slightly, yet very quickly thereafter a decided gain may be looked for.
It is proof of the great value of walking that athletes everywhere, no matter for what event they may be preparing, always make it a part of their training. They do this because it builds vital' power. Such added vitality enables them to increase the vigor of -the muscles that they expect to use most in their con-tests. V
Then, too, it is well to note that walking keeps one young. It delays senility. It drives out old age cells, and makes every part of you throb with life and health and strength. One of the youngest old men that I ever saw in my life was a professional walker who claimed that he made a habit of walking from fifteen to twenty miles a day, and although a man of nearly 60 years he had the complexion of a sixteenyear-old girl, and did not look more than 35.
It is always an advantage to have some destination in view. When you start out, select some place that you would like to reach. Wandering aimlessly here and there is never of very great benefit as an exercise, though undoubtedly it is pleasurable. If you are walking in the country, select a town a few miles away and although there may be nothing of interest there that you desire to see, yet you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you have a definite destination.
From the illustrations in this chapter it will be quite evident that I do not believe in hampering oneself with clothing. The less clothing you wear while walking the greater will be the incidental benefits. In fact, if I could walk in the suit that is worn by the average African savage I would much prefer to do so. Unfortunately, this is carrying our ideas of freedom of dress to extremes, and we have to compromise, remembering, however, .that the air, as it comes in contact with the skin, is a tonic of no small value.
Above all things, one should remember that regularity of breathing is of special importance. If you are unable to regulate your breathing satisfactorily, you might adopt the plan of inhaling during a certain number of steps, say six or eight, and then ex-haling while you count a similar number.