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Book Review: Walking by Casey Meyers

Walking, by Casey Meyers, published in 2007.

Walking is an update to his earlier book Aerobic Walking. Being a walker I appreciated this book for the information and the encouragement it provides.

Meyers was 79 years old when he wrote the book, and has had his share of physical problems during his life - including two knee replacements and, 10 years before he wrote the book, a nearly fatal massive blockage in his heart.

Through all his health issues he has continued to walk, and is certain that he has reached his current age only because of it.

The book spends a lot of pages comparing walking and running. As we all know, runners have injuries - in fact in any given year a runner has a 50 - 50 chance of suffering an injury that will alter or stop their training. When I was running my training was often interrupted by a torn Achilles tendon. Walkers, on the other hand, seem to remain remarkably injury free.

A common theme in the book is that walking just doesn't get the respect it deserves. Walking is perceived as a "beginner's exercise", only done when for some reason the athlete can't engage in more strenuous exercises such as running. Meyers relates an incident in which, when he was 62, he was teased by a 20 year old runner during one of his walks. He challenged the youngster to a 2 mile walk, and handily beat him (thanks to the specificity principle - which states that our body does best what it does most).

I completely relate to this story - back when I was training to run marathons some friends asked me to join them for a bike ride from Houston to Huntsville (about 70 miles). As I had previously done century (100 mile) bike rides and was in pretty good shape I rode with them. About half way through the ride I realized that my legs were trained for running and had lost the conditioning needed for propelling a bike. It was a miserable ride.

After a through discussion of lifestyle, stretching, posture, strolling, brisk walking, aerobic walking, and walking for weight loss, Meyers expounds on what he calls high-intensity walking.

Research on walkers and runners has, somewhat surprisingly, demonstrated that an athlete can obtain the same level of fitness, as measured by their oxygen intake, by walking as they can by running. Admittedly, this result only follows from high-intensity walking - defined here as walking at a pace of 12 minutes a mile or faster. Although clearly runners will cover the ground faster than walkers, a walker doing high-intensity walking can be every bit as fit as the most highly trained runner.

Meyers has a chapter on how regular walkers can progress to faster paces (and higher fitness levels). The most important trick is to bend the arms at the elbow to shorten the natural period of your arm swing.

The book has some not so good news for anyone walking to lose or control their weight. While exercising 3 or 4 days a week will certainly improve your overall health in many ways, it may be necessary to exercise 6 or 7 days a week to have an effect on your weight.

Meyers ends the book with chapters on race walking (an under-appreciated sport), the medical aspects of walking (useful in cardiac rehabilitation, stroke, hypertension, and other diseases), and mental benefits (it's good for the brain as well!).

All in all an enjoyable read about a subject I am interested in. The book has many practical suggestions for getting the maximum benefit from your walking, and incorporating a better diet into a healthy lifestyle.