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Walking And Standing: The Two Best Exercises

July 13, 2010 by  

Walking And Standing: The Two Best Exercises

I am often asked what type of exercise regimen one should begin as part of a health restoration program. There are so many different types of exercises available and so many places to do them that beginning such a program can seem daunting. This is especially true for those who have lived a sedentary lifestyle for a few years.

The thrust of the advice I espouse is one of prevention by means of self-direction. This means that it is not necessary to join a gym or purchase a treadmill in order to restore health through exercise.

Indeed, immediately joining an aerobics class or churning out miles on a treadmill can actually cause pain if you are not currently “in shape.” And since we are more concerned here with changing lifestyle patterns and outlooks, it is best to start slow. Then you can build to more challenging activities as your body grows stronger and your interest grows.

I don’t personally enjoy lifting weights, jogging or aerobic exercises. However, I do train in the martial arts and engage in a regular program of qigong standing and brisk walking as mind/body exercises. Since any health approach should incorporate an integrated mind/body theme, this must be an essential component of the physical activity you choose as exercise.

In this way, in addition to burning calories, increasing oxygen intake, stabilizing blood fats and sugars and releasing those feel-good hormones, you will also develop a mind/body center that will help focus your thoughts, emotions and spirit and help reduce the stress and anxiety that often accompany ill health.

Let’s look at two exercises that are easy to do, enjoyable and will get you toned and in shape while also offering a means of connecting your mind and body. These are Brisk Walking and Qigong Standing.

Brisk Walking
If done correctly, brisk walking can be one of the safest, most beneficial and enjoyable of exercises. Walking is an aerobic activity, but since it is low-impact there is little wear-and-tear on the joints and little (if any) triggering of pain from the jarring action of the body experienced in high-impact aerobic exercise or jogging. Although it is a simple activity, walking actually utilizes most of the muscles of the body to propel you forward and keep you on balance. It also increases respiration, heart and lung function, blood and oxygen flow and the “burning off” of blood sugars and fats. It facilitates the removal of toxins and other wastes through sweat and improved eliminative functions.

Walking is so simple and ordinary, yet in one 30-minute session you can raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL)—the good—cholesterol levels, increase respiration within safe limits, sweat out toxins, release feel-good hormones called endorphins, improve heart function, begin reducing weight, reduce stress, promote relaxation and improve overall endurance and body tone. Amazing.

Many of the triggers that attack our health can be reduced or eliminated simply by walking. And this activity only requires time, as no special place need be made to do it—though it is preferable to walk in a park as opposed to a busy city sidewalk.

Though walking in and of itself is a common activity, few of us do it properly. In fact, walking as we naturally do will do little for our purposes. You must look to walking as a mind/body activity, wherein your mind is clear, emotions calm, respiration steady, body properly aligned and relaxed and each walking step even and balanced. If you are able to integrate each of these components while briskly walking for at least 30 minutes a day, then your walks can be considered a microcosm of an integrated mind/body approach to health and wellness

Qigong Standing
Qigong is an ancient Chinese mind/body discipline that seeks to establish a healthy body by developing the so-called three treasures and three regulations. The three treasures are known in Chinese as jing (essence), qi (vital energy) and shen (spirit).

Jing is simply the body’s energy that is derived from glucogen and turned into glucose that is used to propel the body during any physical activity.

Qi has a number of meanings, many of which are esoteric and difficult to comprehend in Western terms. However, all of these meanings and definitions involve the coordination of breath or respiration with concentration.

Shen encompasses the many functions of the mind and your emotions and disposition.

Qigong, then, is primarily concerned with focus, intention and thought, as it is the intention that leads the breath to develop energy to power the body to then help make us healthy.

I have found that despite the hundreds of qigong practices, they all have a similar theme. Therefore, the more simple the qigong system the better (especially for busy Americans).

I have chosen to describe here the method known as zhanzhuang, or simply the “standing pole” method. It requires only enough space to stand still, and it is so simple that you will not be distracted by having to remember specific sequences of movement.

In a nutshell, this practice is as easy as standing with your legs a shoulder’s width apart with the knees bent only one or two inches and with both arms bent and held at the same level. Below are three standing postures for you to do in sequence.

1. Hand Floating On Water Hold your arms out to their respective sides, palms facing down. Try to visualize that your palms are floating on water. Be sure to keep them in place and not move them during the exercise.

2. Hugging A Tree From the previous posture, slowly raise your arms to chest level while pulling them inward. You want to feel as if you are hugging a tree, which is a mental image to keep your arms from coming too close to the body. Relax your hands and elbows and wrists, again like they are floating on water.

3. Holding Up The Sky From the previous posture, slowly rotate your palm outward while lifting your arms upward. The final position should find your hands at about forehead height, extended slightly forward and upward, as if holding up the sky from falling.

Once each posture is assumed, do the following steps:

  • Quiet the mind by not stressing over distracting thoughts that may come—simply allow them to go freely without passing judgment.
  • Regulate respiration by quietly breathing in and out at a steady relaxed pace. Now enjoy yourself for the next nine minutes.
  • After nine minutes, slowly move your arm position to the next posture. Do not excite your mind or move your legs as this will distract your energy and intention.

Sounds simple, but so much is going on. Here is a quote from Traditional Chinese Therapeutic Exercises—Standing Pole, by Wang Xuanjei and J.P.C. Moffett:

“Standing pole is an exercise of the whole body. As the outer form of the body is not moved, all the internal organs settle, while all metabolic functions increase. This develops movement within non-movement, that is, unhindered internal activity and movement within external stillness. It is a non-violent and non-overburdening exercise, simultaneously providing rest and exercise, easily adaptable to any condition and encouraging development of the body’s innate strengths and abilities in a natural way.”

You see, while it appears as if you are doing nothing at all, in actuality the body is engaged in a process of physical activity. While quieting the mind and regulating respiration you are reducing stress, relaxing the cerebral cortex and rejuvenating the central nervous system. You are also working muscles by virtue of maintaining an isometric posture wherein the knees and elbows are bent, the arms are raised and this position held steady without release until the end of the session. This elevates heart rate without overtaxing the heart, improves the circulation of blood and oxygen throughout the body and increases metabolic functions while releasing toxins and tension from the body.

You’ll be surprised to find how difficult merely standing still can be. To be honest, most people have difficulty standing still (unmoving/frozen) for more than five minutes. Whether you think you’re already fit, or in need of more tone… give qigong a try. The results may surprise you.

Go ahead and take a brisk 30-minute walk and later that day or the next day, stand still for 30 minutes. You may find you’ve never felt better.

—Dr. Mark Wiley

Jeffrey R. Matthews

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  • Anthony

    The Offices where I work, are re-modeling into what they call the “Mobile Workforce” …. everything is going ‘collaborative’ … and the old, tall-walled cubicles where each person might sit are going away. Instead, now you can look aruond the room and see who actually came into work and become more interactive = productive.

    The hang-up to this new change? Everyone has to learn how to “whisper” when they gossip. It’s no longer possible to come and sit at a desk and have all of your family photos hanging around you. Instead, you’re suggested to scan those photos on the copier and use them as a screensaver on your Laptop. PC’s are moving away from the normal desktop variety. Now, you take your computer with you wherever you go and therefore, you can be ‘on the job’ in an instant.

    A huge part of the new setup, are the new desks they are installing. These new fangled contraption have the ability to move up and down with the pressing of a button – in other words, the desk itself is electronic and you are no longer forced to just sit there…. Now, you can also raise your working surface and do as this Article suggests… and that’s stand up to work – sorta like an Architect used to do on his drawing slate, before they came up with AutoCad software. And, the chairs? Well, the new ergonomically designed chairs are almost as good as your favorite recliner… ya just gotta remember… YOU’RE AT WORK.

    Trust me, it does make a difference during the working day when you have these options and you do take the time to alter your work-mode or area you habitate in. As more and more of the different buildings we work in convert over to thie new IWP, they call it, it’s becoming less and less necessary for anyone to actually go to a specific location formerly known as Their Office.

    Being mobile, means your Office goes wherever you go. You can even sit in the Cafeteria all day, if you prefer, right next to the coffee pot. Just remermber, to treat yourself to a llittle different work habit every day, by standing up for a few hours, or going for a walk, if possible, and sitting somewhere new… it does have an affect… quite positive, actually.

    Thanks, Doc!

    • Dr. Mark Wiley

      Thanks, Anthony. Great tips! Keep sharing. We are all learning so much from each other here.

  • TIME

    Doc, Good blog,
    I walk 5 miles a day no matter what the weather. Its good for you and if your like me and have to take calls just pop your cell phone in your pocket.
    Your thinking clearly and what better way to talk with your clients than with a crisp clear view.

    • Dr. Mark Wiley

      Thank you for sharing. Everyone should have the option to walk and talk! One tip I like to give is for office workers to stand up every time they are on the phone. Gives the hips a break from sitting and changes circulation. And if they stand in a “stance” then it is even better!

  • Mark

    Anthony, they might sell you on that open office design, but in reality all your company is creating is an old fashioned factory floor. It used to be that people who had professional level office jobs had an office. Than came the cubicles. Now you have been downgraded to a factory worker.

    • Born Conservative

      It doesn’t really matter to me all that much. As long as everyone is still willing to work well with each other, then this notion of “I have a better Office than you do” is really antiquated and always was more of an ego trip than enything else. The truly gifted at business never have need of pretending they have something others can’t have. I prefer to work with Managers whose doors are open to everyone and not just some, anyway.

      This new environment is much much easier overall, and the new designs for the desks really does enhance the ability to stand up and stretch for awhile and not lose any real function in the process.

    • TodayMattersTomorrowToo

      Absolutely true about the factory floor environment advancing in many businesses. It’s not a move to improve working environment, it is adding stress of constant distraction glancing at coworkers’ movements and noise, thought control forcing workers to thread the needle and not think about better ways to thread the needle. Produce. Work. Don’t Think. Next “advancement” will be the glass-windowed bosses offices… raised above the workers, giving a full view of all workers’ actions. Ladies and Gentlemen… this is NOT advancement to enable American invention, creativity, growth, it is the speeding steady “nudge” to Socialism and Slavery under Union direction. Office not Unionized? It will be, but the real Union Label is now Government Made. Are you stupid or just young and under-educated?

      • TodayMattersTomorrowToo

        Apologies for the put-down comment about stupid… clicked submit too fast. So many things are going wrong in our country it is terrifying, and it is critical that Americans stop being herded and STAND and WALK toward our old Freedoms and away from Socialism/Communism. That’s the “healthiest” exercise we can get… it improves everybody’s health… btw, those standing and stretching exercises someone mentioned would be easier at the new “desks” – how “exercised” are you going to feel while the eyes of your boss observe your stretches?

        • Dr. Mark Wiley

          The most important thing is that we do them each day. Making time in the margins of the day is do-able. I do my standing while watching the evening news. I walk everywhere, park far from the door, take stairs. We can all make time for wellness, just a matter of prioritizing it :)

  • Irene Peduto

    No comment on the office environment – worked in education. However these suggestions about walking (which I did know) coupled with standing (did not understand quite as extensively) sound like what the Doctor ordered. Thank you, Dr. Wiley, for your article. For me, it is a life-changer.

    • Dr. Mark Wiley

      My pleasure, Irene! Best of luck and health to you.

  • http://www.listenlittleman.com/ sept11insidejob

    For a Qigong (Chi Gong / Chi Kung) book, this is highly recommended:

    Still as a Mountain, Powerful as Thunder – Simple Taoist Exercises for Healing, Vitality, and Peace of Mind
    By Y.P. Dong

  • John in Florida

    Saw your article in “Best Excercise” in Personal Liberty Digest.
    I personally have found bicycling to be the most restorative excercise yet. On 911-01 (THAT 911!) I was sticken with a stroke and grand mal seizure simultaneously while working for, of all people, a Pentagon contractor, 4 miles from the Pentagon!
    This episode was followed by seizures just about every two weeks for over 2 years. After ruling out past head injuries, congenital reasons, it was diagnosed that my sendentary lifestyle was a big part: little or no excercise, too much alcohol and tobacco, relying on TV dinners as a diet. Pulse rate way up, BP off the scale and ANY excertion or exposure to high temps (90 degress+ outside) would set off another seizure. This was a person who had been very active most of his life — I was a Civil War reenactor for 14 years, hunting, backpacking, Archery, had been going to the gym regularly, weights, etc., but had fallen into mid-life laziness.
    So, I got a good trail bike, comfortable seat, dual suspension and started slowly, started eating fresh foods, cut down on alcohol, switched from cigarettes to a pipe (and smoked MUCH less). I was 47 at the time.
    I am now turning 56 this week, can ride 30-50 miles in a day and not wake up sore! I am wearing the same size clothes that wore when I graduated High school in 1972, a 34″ waist. I have taken 10-12 years off the aging process and women in their late 20s-early 40s think I am in MY early 40s! AND, and, and, it’s a lot easier on my lower back than running/jogging. My sister-in-law who is 12 years younger than I am, has friends (28-40 y/o) who are always asking if I am available. Hmmm.
    Success Story? You betcha!
    JMC

    • http://laketaupocyclechallenge.blogspot.com/ terry

      I am 81 and can no longer walk long distances because of damage from gout in my feet and sore knees so I cycle. Am training for a 100 mile challenge around Lake Taupo New Zealand. I completed it two years ago and am still in good health.I have cycled all my life

    • Dr. Mark Wiley

      John, excellent post and thank you so much for sharing it with us! Bicycling is also a terrific low-impact exercise. Congratulations on the wellness success story of your life!!

  • John Law

    Good column Doctor.

    I remember being a kid many years ago and training for track. After finishing 400 meter repeats he said to me: “Tt’s like hitting your head with a hammer… it feels so good when you stop.”

    Later when I was a jogger I found that the only thing worse than running was walking because it took twice as long. I would set out for a 5 mile run where I would half to turn around at the 2 1/2 mile mark and run back. Was always eager to “get it over with” so I would never walk back.

    Now in my 50s I find I have to walk and oh yea, swim which if done with some intensity is another terrific exercies.

  • http://bertoni2@sbcglobal.net David Burton

    I agree with you that walking and standing pole are good exercises.However to get the best results,its important to not leave out any steps.If you leave out relaxing,gently keeping the tongue on the roof of the mouth[which completes an energy circut}and breath slow and deep through the nose you will get a lot more out of the exercise.Also to focus the eyes on a distant point at eye level.Some people focus on a candle flame,tree leaf or distant mountain peak.If you are going to spend the time, you should get as much as possible out of it. I wish you the best with your pratice.
    Sincerly David Burton

    • Dr. Mark Wiley

      David, thank you for these additional tips. All exercise should be mind/body/energy/spirit in unison and your suggestions help this process.

  • Jerry

    I had five cardiac artery by pass plus a repaired thoracic aneurysm about three years ago. One year ago, I had two cancer cells removed from my prostate gland and was operated on my inguinal hernia at the same time with my Da Vinci protatectomy. I am 70 years young. I lost 25 – 30 pounds weigh due to the three combined procedures and reduced my waist line from 36 to 30 inches. I tried going back to Aikido two weeks ago but had difficulty on the mat with my shortness of breathe, the discomfort of my hernia and my swollen legs and ankles on both legs due to congestive heart failure. I stopped my Aikido practice for now or permanently? I am faihtfully taking the medications prescribed by my cardiologist. Reading health magazines and books suggested exercise. But no type of exercise that is specific to my present condition. Dr. Wiley, what exercise would you suggest I do.

    • Dr. Mark Wiley

      Jerry, I am sorry to hear about your conditions. The point is, walking and standing exercises are the best for anyone able to do them. The important elements are slightly increasing respiration, sweating, muscle tone, oxygen intake, detox. If you can’t walk, try standing for 30 minutes as described… very difficult! Put in place a program of daily walking/standing and see how you feel in 7-10 days. Better, I’ll bet!

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