Self-Care Saturdays: Your health is in walking distance!
Walking is an inherent human function that serves many practical roles in our lives. Yet, strange as it might seem, modern day humans are intent on doing as little walking as possible! Not only are we unwilling to walk the half a mile to the neighborhood store, but now we have moving walkways that get us around airports, or escalators that excuse us from using the stairs! Walking doesn’t get the respect that it deserves!
The notion of walking being good for one’s health isn’t a new idea. More than 2,000 years ago, Hippocrates said, “Walking is man’s best medicine.” There are many reasons why I am personally fond of walking. For one, it’s all-inclusive, and almost anyone can do it. The only equipment required are your feet, comfortable shoes, and a nice day. But walking can also enhance life. Here are some of my favorite reasons why:
A cure for sitting
We spend much of our waking life sitting down, or worse, slumping on the couch! Even if you get regular exercise, excessive sitting invites a whole host of health problems and can increase risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and musculoskeletal problems, which results in physical pain and injury. Studies have shown that walking five to ten minutes out of every hour of sitting can help alleviate the negative effects of being sedentary, creating pockets of moderate activity each day that you give your body a respite from prolonged sitting.
Walk with ease
Walking for health is well tolerated by people with arthritis, and could even improve their condition! For those who live with arthritis, exercise can be painful and seen as something to be avoided. However, walking is gentle and can reduce stiffness and inflammation, while increasing strength and function and improve balance.
Lose some belly fat
Walking for health won’t get you ripped, shredded or cut, but by making a point of walking frequently can help a person lose some body fat. Studies have shown that walking at least 10,000 steps a day is associated with lower body fat percentage and lower overall weight.
Studies suggest that 15 minutes of walking performed after each meal can improve blood glucose control and has the same effect as 45 minutes of sustained walking performed once a day. By keeping the walk as close to the meal as possible can aid in weight loss.
Simply walking can help reduce LDL cholesterol, the bad kind that is associated with heart disease, and increases HDL cholesterol, the good sort. Walking has also been show to be effective in lowering damaging triglycerides.
It seems that Aristotle may have been onto something with famous habit of walking around while teaching his students. Walking has been proven to have many cognitive benefits, including improving memory in seniors, academic performance in students and boosting creativity in the young and healthy. Studies have shown that the further an older person can walk in six minutes, the better he or she can perform on memory and logic tests. Those who performed worse on these walking tests are shown to have reduced grey matter volume in sections of their brains.
Going for a walk is an ideal “get-away” from a stressful day at the office, preferably in a natural setting. Whether it’s at the beach, the woods, or at the park, going for a walk in outdoors is a great way to increase endorphins and lower cortisol, the stress hormone. After a walk, people often report a lift in their mood, increased energy levels and a greater sense of wellbeing.
A better mood
Just 30 minutes of walking a day has been associated with improving mood amongst depressed patients, and thanks to the release of endorphins during exercise, one study indicates that walking actually worked faster than antidepressants for elevating mood.
By making your daily walk a group activity, the benefits of spending time with friends and developing strong social bonds provides emotional support and is shown to improve resilience and lowering stress hormones. In the business world, there is a new trend of holding meetings while walking outdoors. Replacing seated board room meetings with walking meetings has been found to be refreshing, invigorating and enhances creativity.
As walking is such a low-difficulty activity, we can freely direct our thoughts to higher matters. While we walk, we work through problems, come up with solutions, replay conversations, ruminate and create. In contrast, walking can also be like meditation, shifting your brain into a calmer state. Studies have shown that walking through green spaces can actually put the brain into a mediative state, while quieting the mind and increasing awareness. Even if you can’t quite muster a walking mediation practice, you can still enjoy the benefits of walking while you let your mind tune out the clutter of the day.
Walking the walk
Simple and natural, walking doesn’t require any instruction or skill, and no special equipment is required. This modest form of exercise can be done alone or with friends, and can be practiced indoors on walking tracks or treadmills, or outdoors in the city, suburbs or countryside. The benefits of walking are many and very low risk, and is absolutely free! Charles Dickens got it right when he said, “Walk and be happy, walk and be healthy. The best way to lengthen out our days is to walk steadily and with a purpose.”