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So, this is a blog about healthy living through diet and exercise, right? Well, let’s talk about the most basic form of exercise and the benefits that come along with it.
Walking – to move at a regular pace by lifting and setting down each foot in turn, never having both feet off the ground at once. I just wanted to clarify that. Chances are if you are reading this, you own a smartphone. Now there is a 99.99% chance that that smartphone of yours has a fitness app with a pedometer. I would like you to take 5-10 minutes to open that app and set it up if you have not already done so. If you have already done this, I would like you to look at your step count from yesterday. I will go as far as to say that most of us are nowhere close to the recommended 10,000 steps we should be taking every day. If you are reading this in the United States chances are that you aren’t even much more than halfway to that goal. According to an article in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the average American walks the least of any industrialized nation, clocking in an average of only 5,117 steps a day.
So, what is it about us here in the US that leads us to walk comparatively less than the rest of the world? The first answer not only applies to us but virtually everywhere in the modern world. Walking, like other forms of physical activity has been engineered out of existence. You don’t believe me, go ask your grandfather about his journey to school or the grocery store. I bet it involves, “Back in my day, snow/stifling heat, and five miles” ……. give or take. Walking is a casualty of modern life we live in. After all, in a world of online shopping, people movers, self-driving cars, and hoverboards (unfortunately not the cool Back to The Future ones) who want to walk anywhere………I do, that’s who! Why would I want to do this you ask? Here are my top 5 reasons why I walk every day. Of course, before starting any exercise routine, even something as simple as walking, it is always a good idea to consult your primary care doctor first.
Maintain a healthy weight
It’s well known that physical activity consumes energy and that energy comes in the form of calories. Burning more calories than you take in the will, of course, leads to weight loss. For example, a study in the Journal of Exercise Nutrition and Biochemistry showed the positive effects that walking could have on burning fat and reducing waist circumference in obese females. The women walked between 50-70 minutes 3 days per week for a total of 12 weeks. After the study, they found that the participants lost an average of 1.5% body fat and 1.1 inches around their waists. For most of us that are not going to give us those washboard abs but coupled with a good diet, this will lead to a reduction in risk of diabetes and heart disease.
One of the many benefits of walking (as well as other forms of exercise) is the mental health improvement that comes along with it. Research has shown that walking can improve your mood and can make you feel better. According to a California State University, Long Beach study, there was a clear link between a person’s step count and mood and energy level. As study participants walked more, they rated their diet better and rated themselves higher on several mental health measures. In all honesty, this is common sense. Think about it. How do you feel after sitting in front of a computer screen or TV for an extended period? Walking, like other forms of exercise, release endorphins which in turn bring about a feeling of improved well-being.
Improvement in brain function
According to the New York Times, even a 10-minute walk may improve memory and brain function. The scientist has seen the development of new brain cell clusters within the hippocampus, the part of our brain that is important to the creation and storage of memories, in multiple studies done with mice and rats who ran on wheels or treadmills versus those who remained sedentary. This led the animals to perform at a higher rate of learning and memory tests. A similar test on brain tissue is not possible within the human population, but past studies have shown that people who live a more active lifestyle tend to have a larger and healthier hippocampus.
Improved immune response
Raise your hand if you love the common cold or the flu. I didn’t think so. A study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed a link between walking and a substantial reduction in the number of sick days. There was a 43% decrease in the number of reported days spent sick in those who walked at a moderate pace for 30 to 45 mins a day and fewer upper respiratory tract infections overall. Those that were active and did get sick also reported fewer symptoms while being sick than those in the study that lived a sedentary lifestyle.
Free your mind
Have you ever noticed that while walking you seem to be able to take some time and think? That’s because there is a link to walking and the ability to clear your head and help you think creatively. A study that included several experiments contrasted participants trying to think of new ideas while they were walking versus sitting. Researchers found that they did better while walking, more interestingly while walking outdoors. The researchers concluded that walking opens up a free flow of ideas and is a simple way to increase creativity and get physical activity at the same time. Next time you need to come up with a solution for a project that has been nagging you, go for a stroll outside to help free your mind.
Let’s get started
The hardest part of any journey is getting started. As always learn to crawl before you can walk (see what I did there). Instead of driving around looking for that perfect parking spot park a little further away, just make sure it’s in a safe and well-lit spot. Leave home a little earlier if you commute and get off a stop earlier and walk the rest of the way. These may not seem like a big step forward (insert winking eye) but it’s a start. Always remember to stay safe while walking. Remember to always warm-up before and cool down after any exercise to help avoid injuries. Walk with a loved one or friend when possible, be conscious of traffic and try to stay in areas designated for pedestrians. Invest in shoes with good heel and arch support for a more comfortable experience. Make sure to hydrate before, after, and if long enough during your walks, and even on the cloudiest of days don’t forget your sunscreen. Need some extra motivation to invest in a fitness tracker and work to conquer your previous best pace/distance. Lastly, enjoy the journey and the benefits. Happy walking