It is estimated that the average Briton walks approximately 2.2 miles per day (the Government advice is 5 miles a day or equivalent activity) and the average citizen of the USA only walks 0.6 miles per day.
As human beings we evolved to move, specifically as hunter gatherers it is believed our ancestors would cover 3.5 to 10 miles per day. Moreover is it also believed that the development of the human brain was (at least in part) due to deal with these walking and running behaviours (walking over difficult ground requires more eye-brain coordination, quick decision making and quicker reflexes). Some scientists also believe the “S shaped” curve of our spines developed due to our bipedal movement on challenging ground. Also it should be borne in mind early humans would be traversing uneven and often difficult surfaces – all of which are now known to stimulate brain activity, brain development and physical development.
However in the 21st century our reduced levels of activity and the presence of smooth surfaces in towns and cities, means that our joints and brains are less challenged. Our movements now tend to be linear with little or no rotation or lateral movement. Limited movement patterns will obviously lead to accelerated joint wear via soft tissue imbalances, but it is also theorised that they can –
- increase mental decline
- damage the cardio vascular system by increasing blood pressure
- reduce muscle tone
- lead to weight gain via reduced calorie expenditure
- decrease balance
- reduce proprioception
To put it crudely walking on “nice safe surfaces” may lead to accelerated aging.
Research in China has also shown that walking/running on difficult ground reduced blood pressure, improved balance, helped restful sleep and improved mood. People suffering chronic pain reported reduced pain scores.
So if possible take yourself “off path” – in a park, walk on cobbles/uneven surfaces in towns, go for a hike in the countryside. Start slowly and if you have a health problem speak to your health practitioner before starting your “off road challenge”.