“Walking is man’s best medicine…” – Hippocrates
Next Saturday, July 7th, I’ll be starting a walking a program in Long Beach starting at our beautiful Marine Stadium. I’ve been walking as a part of my fitness routine for years, and not only do I believe that everyone should be incorporating walks into their weekly fitness schedule, but science agrees. Just 10 minutes of walking can have a positive effect on your body and mind and lift your spirits after a long day, and up to 45 minutes and beyond on a regular basis has the potential to replace your anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications, along with a myriad of other psychological and physical benefits.
A study done by Robert Thayer, a local psychology professor at California State University of Long Beach required 12 males and 25 females to wear a pedometer from the time they woke up until the time they went to sleep over a period of 20 days. The results? The students who took more steps per day reported feeling healthier, more energized, happier, and felt more self-esteem. As an added bonus, they also reported that the walking helped them choose more nutritious foods throughout the day.
When you’re living in your head most of the day (work, planning for your future and your child’s future, dealing with finances, etc.), there’s a gap that forms between your mind and body, which ideally work as one entity in a healthy individual. However, it seems that this precious unity between the mind and body is becoming more and more rare as we find more to distract ourselves with (hello, iPhone 3, 4, 5…). Walking, however, is a grounding exercise. Using your legs to physically move you rather than your brain to move you through imaginary future circumstances or through those awful daily ruminations can actually shift your energy downward, significantly calming your mind and your entire body. Walking can be a meditative exercise, bringing you back into awareness of the sensations in your body. Also, walking can actually serve as a better form of meditation than sitting still for some, gradually diminishing the nervous energy with the low-impact movement.
Feeling anxious or depressed can easily discourage anyone from getting up and getting physical. Surely, the last thing anyone with anxiety or depression wants to do is go to a crowded gym (which, even without clinical depression or anxiety, can make anyone feel a little down or anxious). However, walking can be done anywhere, hence my mantra, “no gym, no equipment, no excuses!” You can go alone, with a friend, or with a group. You can walk in an urban area or take a nature walk. It’s up to you! Walking releases endorphins, which make you feel good naturally. Just 30 to 45 minutes of walking five days a week has been proven to have the same effect as anti-depressants– and the effects last longer and are free for the taking! It takes about a month of regular walking for it to kick in, but that’s about how long it takes for drugs like Zoloft and Prozac to establish their chemicals in your system as well. It’s important that when you decide to walk as part of your treatment for anxiety or depression that you set realistic goals at first. If you aren’t normally physically active, don’t set out to walk for 45 minutes on your first day. As with anything, take it slow at first and feel it out. A good, reasonable goal could be a 15 minute walk for a few days, and then maybe bump it up to 20 minutes for another few days until you start walking for thirty. Work your way up to the longer walks and you’ll likely bypass the risk of feeling bored or overwhelmed.
The most obvious benefit is weight loss. Walking regularly burns calories and stored fat and builds muscle, which of course, speeds up your metabolism in general.Walking can lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase your HDL (good) cholesterol. The increase in circulation that walking induces encourages enzymes to break down bad fats and move things along. Only 30 minutes per day can help you reap the benefits of getting your cholesterol under control! Another physical bonus is that keeping your weight under control lessens the stress put on your joints, ultimately helping with joint pain and arthritis. This is a benefit that not all exercise can provide, seeing as most gym activities are high impact and can hurt joints rather than help them. Walking also gradually strengthens the muscles around joints, providing more support.
The greatest physical benefit, I think, is the significant prevention of heart disease that comes from walking on a regular basis. Walking carries more nutrients and oxygen to your organs, strengthens your heart muscles, and lowers your blood pressure. This cardio combo results in a 40% less chance that you will suffer from heart disease by walking for just 30 minutes, five days a week (even 10 minutes of walking can lower your blood pressure for up to 11 hours). If you up your walks to an hour for seven days a week, you lower your risk for breast cancer by 20%, and diabetes by– oh my goodness– 50%! That’s amazing! Not only does it protect you from the big, bad, scary diseases, but it also helps your immunity now by making it easier to fight off colds and viruses. A study actually found that walkers had more immune cells to fight off bacteria. Not enough benefits for you yet? Walking thirty minutes a day can lengthen your life by 1.3 years. What can’t it do?!
All you need are shoes. You have shoes, don’t you? (It’s much more helpful to have shoes than excuses, by the way). Anyone can look at that mighty list of benefits that the simple act of a daily walk provides and pick out something they would like to have for themselves. Do you want to control your anxiety? Shoot for being able to walk for 30-45 minutes per day. Want to lower your blood pressure? You only need 10 minutes! Most people equate exercise with something difficult and intimidating, when really, walking is one of the best forms of exercise and is anything but! Even athletes who train for high-impact sports can benefit from including walks into their training schedule on off-days. If you have working legs, then work them! Walking is the ultimate answer for better health and a better life.
If you’re in the Long Beach area, join me for my group walks starting July 7th-October 6th, 2012 around Marine Stadium. For more details click here.