Walking and Power Walking: How Do They Benefit IC Patients
As the benefits of routine walking and the number of daily steps we take become a focus for good health, IC patients may wonder where they fit in to this exercise approach. After all, exercise in general can be quite challenging for many patients. And for some, even walking short distances can cause bladder, hip, low back and leg pain.
In this column I am going to cover the pros and cons of walking in general, for both people with and without IC, to give the whole picture. First of all, walking like other exercise, promotes mood-lifting hormones that fight pain and depression. Walking also promotes deep breathing, increases circulation, aids digestion and elimination (good for irritable bowel syndrome), helps us sleep better, and gives us a "sense of control" over our bodies. Walking can strengthen our abdominal muscles, our low backs and legs, and build our bones. Moderate walking (30 minutes of walking on most days of the week) helps to pare down the pounds, boosts our "good cholesterol," lowers our blood pressure, and reduces our risk of diabetes. And, the benefits increase when we lengthen the duration of our exercise. A study in the Sept. 10, 2003 Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that women who did 75-150 minutes of brisk walking a week significantly lowered their risk of breast cancer. While most of us can't even imagine trying to walk 150 minutes a week, we can still benefit from moderate manageable walking, even a few times a week.
Lets look at the different types of walking. We all know what it feels like to take a stroll, a nice leisurely stroll through the park. Yet, with IC, the feeling may just be a memory. As a matter of fact, many of us IC patients walk fast, and for similar reasons. One, we need to get to where we are going so we can find, or get back to a bathroom. Two, the constant awareness and/or pain of IC can create a sense of nervousness, a hyper feeling that causes us to get up and down a lot when it's just too uncomfortable and painful to sit still. And, some of us pace when we are in a flare-up, because the energy of pacing matches the intensity of the pain. It's almost like we are trying to run away from the pain.
COUNTING OUR STEPS
In a recent study
on walking, participants benefited from adding just 400 steps a day (about
the equivalent of 20 minutes of walking). Of course, this must be kept
up to benefit. And although it sounds better than the 10,000-step plan
(or the other 2000-step plan), I think that I will need to pare it down
to fit my capability. Still, starting with baby steps, I can definitely
challenge myself just enough to feel like I'm making a difference, and
then I'll feel alright about the times I cannot add steps because of my
One nice thing about brisk walking, which is the same as power walking, is that we can do it in intervals and get good results. For instance, walking more intensely (in faster intermittent spurts) for short durations during our walking workout appears to offer the benefits of continuous exercise in half the time. This may make brisk walking more bearable for us for a couple of reasons. For one thing we don't have to walk as long, and with intervals there is less rigidity and tension in the body. Also, too much brisk walking can be hard on the lower back because there is a lot of rotation and twisting.
According to chiropractic theory repeated twisting may actually irritate the third lumbar nerve, which is a bladder nerve and a nerve that also goes to the hamstring muscles (backs of the thighs). If the third lumbar nerve is compromised by IC, it is probably best to avoid repeated twisting of the low back. However, walking without too much twisting can benefit the third lumbar nerve, and therefore supposedly strengthen the bladder and the hamstring muscles. Like everything with IC, benefits are always individual.
KEEPING OUR ARMS
Some power walkers hold two to five pound weights in their hands while walking. This helps to get their heart rates up. If IC patients can comfortably do this then I say do it. However, walking while holding weights can keep our arms locked in 90 degree angles, increase twisting in our low backs, and limit the amount of movement through our bodies. Weights, especially for us, can also promote tension in the joints of our shoulders, arms and hands, because most of us don't have good support and strength (for holding the weights) in our pelvic and abdominal muscles. If IC patients want to walk with weights it's a good idea to begin walking with a handful of pennies in each hand. Starting with small amounts of weight in each hand, we are less likely to take on a tension pattern, and more able to recognize tension if we decide to progress to one or two pound weights.
WEARING THE RIGHT
Lacing our walking shoes for our foot type is also important (refer to our Summer Shoes column, May 2001), as is picking a shoe with a comfortable arch. Too much arch can create tension in our feet, ankles, knees and hips. We need to choose walking shoes that provide comfortable support without imposing too much change in the way we stand.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT
STRETCHES BEFORE WALKING
To prepare your upper and lower bodies for a "walking workout," refer to the stretches in Short Cuts, in the back of our STRETCH INTO A BETTER SHAPE book. You will find the "Hamstring Stretch" and photos of the other stretches at the end of this column. Please do not try the other stretches without proper instruction. And, always walk around your home a little before stretching to warm your muscles.
The Interstitial Cystitis Network