Walk Your Way Towards Health

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For many of us, Spring sure has taken its sweet time showing up. And while we’re all joyfully anticipating the warmth of the summer sun, splendor of our gardens, and onset of our well-deserved vacations, some of us may also be a bit conflicted about the arrival of warm weather due to what I affectionately like to call the “big reveal.”

The Big Reveal

You know what I mean by “big reveal,” right? It’s that time of year when our camouflage clothes are discarded, and the shorts and bathing suits come out of their mothballs and wreak havoc with our self-esteem! When we can no longer rationalize lounging for hours in front of the TV hiding in comfy, over-sized clothing while soothing our shivering souls with our hot cocoa. When we can ill afford to skip our gym workouts or use our home treadmills as drying racks. And when we can no longer say to ourselves, “I’ll wait until I won’t slip on ice or get frostbite!”

If your plans for the “big reveal” are to consume 1000 calories a day of greens and meat, run a marathon on Day 1, and lift 50 lb. weights on your first visit to the gym, think again!! Starvation, shin splints, and torn ligaments are definitely not the way to go! Believe it or not, one of the best prescriptions for toning your muscles, managing your weight, and improving your overall health is also one of the easiest and most accessible: Walking. According to Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, walking is “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug.” 

Benefits of Walking Abound

  1. It counteracts the effects of weight-promoting genes
    Harvard researchers looked at 32 obesity-promoting genes in more than 12,000 people to determine how much these genes actually contributed to body weight. They then discovered that, among the study participants who walked briskly for about an hour a day, the effects of those genes were cut in half.
  2. It helps tame a sweet tooth
    A 15-minute walk can curb cravings for sweets and even reduce the amount of sweets you eat in stressful situations.
  3. It significantly cuts your risk of chronic illnesses
    Researchers at the University of Boulder Colorado and the University of Tennessee found that regular walking lowered blood pressure by as much as 11 points and may reduce the risk of stroke by 20% to 40%. One of the most cited studies on walking and health, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002, found that those who walked enough to meet physical activity guidelines (30 or more minutes of moderate activity on 5 or more days per week) had a 30% lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared with those who did not walk regularly. Furthermore, walking lowers your blood sugar levels and your overall risk for diabetes, as well as reduces the risk of developing breast cancer.
  4. It eases joint pain
    Several studies have found that walking reduces arthritis-related pain, and that walking five to six miles a week can even prevent arthritis from forming in the first place. Walking protects the joints — especially the knees and hips, which are most susceptible to osteoarthritis — by lubricating them and strengthening the muscles that support them.
  5. It improves your mood
    Research shows that regular walking actually modifies your nervous system so much that you'll experience a decrease in anger and hostility. What's more, when you walk with your partner, a neighbor, or a good friend, that interaction helps you feel connected, which also boosts mood. Finally, walking outdoors exposes you to natural sunlight, which can help stave off Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)—making it a potential antidote for the winter blues.

And if those aren't enough reasons to get you on your feet, consider this: Walking also improves circulation, memory, productivity, and creativity; reduces stress; enhances your immune function, balance and coordination, and even delays aging.

Remind Yourself of Your Big “Why”

Everyone has a different reason for wanting to exercise, beyond the general goals of losing weight, lowering blood pressure, or just enhancing overall fitness. Whether you're motivated by wanting to participate in activities with your kids or grandchildren, to avoid the chronic conditions that may have afflicted family members, or to lose a few pounds, it's important to envision your unique long-term reasons for exercising and what it can do for you.

Track your progress

Whatever your specific goals, consider tracking your progress. It's always motivating to have quantifiable ways for measuring your success. In doing so, you might also want to infuse a bit of competition into the mix. If you're up for a good challenge, consider setting goals that you can use to compete against a friend or friends. And if you're looking for an easy way to measure your improvement in steps walked, for example, a fitness tracker is a great way to hold yourself accountable.

By choosing to walk regularly, you'll also be in grand company. Some of our most revered writers, philosophers, and physicians have long lauded the value of walking. As the ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates said, "Walking is man's best medicine." And he knew a thing or two about a thing or two!!

Part of this content was previously published in the May, 2018 issue of The New Boston Beacon (Volume 1, Issue 4), in my health and wellness column.