Walk this way – and raise money for prostate cancer research

By Geoff Harris

March the Month is a virtual walking challenge everyone can get involved with.

Hopefully it’s been nice weather recently around where you live, with that long, hard winter receding into memory. Better weather is also a great opportunity to think about doing more exercise, which doctors are finding is really helpful for a massive range of physical and health issues – from cancer prevention (and reducing the risk of recurrence) to helping manage anxiety and depression. It just makes you FEEL better.

March is a great time to do more walking, for example, and as an extra incentive, Prostate Cancer UK has set up the March the Month campaign. If you sign up, you are asked to do 11,000 steps a day for the whole of the month, and get sponsorship to raise money for research.

Hopefully you will see a lot of people supporting March the Month, like this chap

While this seems a big ask, many readers will already be aware of the widely quoted suggestion that you should try and walk 10,000 steps a day. In fact, this figure was never suggested by doctors – it was part of a marketing campaign to mark the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. A company began selling a pedometer called the Manpo-kei: “man” meaning 10,000, “po” meaning steps and “kei” meaning meter. It was a big hit, and the number stuck.

Still, 10,000 steps are believed to burn about 2,500 to 3,500 calories a day, so we don’t need to get into a big debate about this. The more steps you can do every day the better, with one study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that 30 minutes of walking each day cut stroke risk by a minimum of 20%. “Physical activities that burn 1,000 to 2,000 calories a week lower the risk of stroke 24 percent, while energy expenditures of 2,000 to 3,000 calories cut the risk by 46 percent,” said the researchers.

As for prostate cancer, which is one of the biggest killers of men in the world, numerous studies have shown the benefits of physical activity, with one finding that it reduced the risk of prostate cancer-specific mortality by approximately 30%. It also slowed disease progression by up to 57%. Scientists think it's because exercise may help regulate the way cancer cells grow and repair DNA.

If you do decide to join March the Month or just do more walking generally, here are some tips to help you get the best results. Even with the UK lockdown restrictions in place, you are still allowed – indeed encouraged – to exercise every day, with the main restrictions being that it is just once a day, and you don’t travel outside your local area.

1) Get some good walking shoes

This might sound like common sense, but it’s well worth investing in a decent pair that cushion your ankles and feet, and more than that, encourage good balance while supporting your whole body. It might be hard to get the fitting properly checked with non-essential stores closed, but a decent, well-cushioned pair should at least get you started.

2) Think about waterproofing and grip

Shoes that grip well are very important if you walk on potentially slippery surfaces outside (even paving stones can be slippery after rain). Vibram soles can really help and it’s worth paying the extra as you don’t want to twist your ankle or put out your knee with a bad slip. Waterproof walking shoes have got a lot cheaper too, and will make a big difference in the UK climate.

3) Think about your gait.

Walking is something you have been doing all your life, right? True, but a lot of us have developed a poor gait through our sedentary lifestyles. Think about keeping your back straight with your head nicely aligned and your shoulders relaxed. Visualise walking along with a goldfish bowl balanced on your head if it helps.

Try to strike the ground with your heel first, then roll through your heel to your toe, and push out of the step with your toe. So try not to strike the ground with your toes first.

4) Take slightly sideways steps if you walk downhill

I once did a major hike in the foothills of the Himalayas, and our guide, an ex-soldier used to long marches, suggested slightly angling your feet sideways as you walk down potentially slippery or icy slopes. So your toes are somewhat pointing to the left as you descend, rather than straight ahead. It seemed to work, but do what feels comfortable for you. Investing in a hiking pole is a good idea if you feel you need extra support, or suffer with your back and knees. To help avoid blisters, you can get special socks; another good tip to put some petroleum jelly on your feet before going out.

5) Don’t forget indoors

Even if the weather is awful or you live in a very congested urban area where walking outdoors isn’t so much fun, you can increase your daily step tally by going up and down stairs or even doing lots of circuits of the garden. Enjoying exercise is the most important thing and good luck with the fundraising if you do join March the Month.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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