There’s an underrated treatment for many of our modern maladies that may be hidden in plain sight. When it comes to better health, taking a vigorous walk is good medicine. Simply setting off on our own two feet and walking has the power to propel our bodies into better shape, regulate our endocrine system, encourage better sleep and improve our mental wellness. New research shows that the benefits of walking are anything but basic. And one of the best aspects about this activity is that we can do it anywhere and at any level or pace, impacting all aspects of wellness – body, mind and spirit
Benefit: Balanced Hormones
There are over fifty different hormones impacting our health at any given moment – and they all have specific roles. Hormones affect our growth and development, manage metabolism and give us energy through the day. So what does it mean when our hormones are “out of balance”? Many of us experience moderate imbalances at one time or another, but the signs of a serious complication are hard to ignore, and they can lead to chronic illness such as diabetes and PCOS. Digestive disorders, vision changes, hair loss, weight gain or loss and heart problems are some of the symptoms of a hormone imbalance. Certain cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation can greatly impact the body’s ability to regulate hormones, often wreaking havoc on its ability to produce sufficient levels of developmental hormones. Therefore, it is crucial to bring balance back to our body. Fortunately, exercise is one of the best preventative treatments we have at our disposal. There is evidence that walking for 30 minutes four to five times per week is one of the most accessible and healthiest places to begin. Walking has been shown to reduce stress hormones, such as cortisol, which can result in a more positive mood. It’s relatively low-risk, easy on joints and requires little to no additional equipment than a pair of supportive shoes.
Benefit: Boosted Mood
There’s a bonus to lacing up our sneakers and hitting the pavement for a 30 minute stroll around the block – and it even beats running. For all the hype that the “runner’s high” gets, there is plenty of evidence that simply taking a walk can be as mood-elevating and rewarding as running, without the strain and sweat. That’s because walking produces endorphins, “feel-good” chemicals for the brain. Plus, walking is lower impact, easy on the body’s joints and might even be really good for our brain…like really good. According to one study that looked at cognitive performance, walking was shown to improve memory and prevent brain deterioration in aging populations. When compared to running, a short walk beats a long run when battling the symptoms of anxiety in another study. People who dig long walks on the beach (or anywhere) had up to sixty-percent more creative output than their counterparts according to yet another affirming study. The science is clear: when we slow down our feet and let our minds relax, our brains produce happy chemicals that keep them healthy, creative and in good working order well into old age.
Benefit: Better Health
No annual checkup with our physicians would be complete without the familiar reminder to include some form of daily exercise into our routine. It’s well known that a sedentary lifestyle leads to trouble. Indeed, not everyone has the ability to dive right into a sweat-Inducing gym routine or take up a brand new, expensive road cycling habit. What may be surprising, however, is that walking can be just as beneficial (if not more) than its flashier cohorts. Marathon racing or HIIT (high impact interval training) get plenty of attention and sponsor support, but walking is the fat-burning powerhouse. Since walking keeps our heart rate in a lower “fat-burning” zone for longer, according to fitness experts, it beats other high-impact, aerobic workouts. Heart health is another area that surprises many people. When it comes to cardiovascular fitness, walking outperforms running for lowering blood pressure, reducing the risk of stroke and heart attack. That’s certainly a relief for those of us with a family history of heart issues.
The key to improving our minds, hormones and longevity reside with our own two feet. Whether we’re attempting to hit a target of 10,000 steps per day or merely stepping away for a break for half an hour to unwind, the benefits of walking are basically phenomenal.
* For optimal safety and caution, always check with a physician before initiating a new fitness regimen, especially if facing or recovering from surgery and illness.
“It is quite possible to leave your home for a walk in the early morning air and return a different person – beguiled, enchanted.” – Mary Ellen Chase