Why Walking Is Good for Your Health
By Sheryl Kraft
Rumi, the 13th-century mystic poet, was fond of saying, "Beauty surrounds us, but usually we need to be walking in a garden to know it."
I get it. So many times I whiz back and forth in my car, covering the same areas time and time again. It's not until I get out there on my feet and slow down with a walk that I'm able to notice and take in the beautiful and minute details of my surroundings.
I don't know about you, but lately, walking is on my mind a lot more than it's ever been. Why? Well, for one thing, ever since I purchased a FitBit (in case you've been living under a rock and don't know what that is, it's a device worn around your wrist that measures your steps), I'm a lot more mindful of getting my steps to 10,000 a day (inspired by the Surgeon General's recommendation to accumulate 30 minutes of activity most days of the week).
Suddenly, I don't mind getting up off the couch to fetch something in another room or getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom or parking my car in a faraway spot in a parking lot. It all yields more STEPS!
And for another, all this dire news about how dangerous sitting is to your health (when the majority of my day is spent sitting in front of my computer, writing) scares me. "It's the new smoking!" headlines scream.
Scary. Dr. James Levine, who is the director of the Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University Solutions Initiative, as well as the inventor of the treadmill desk (would love one of those!), has even written a book on it (Get Up!). I haven't read it yet, but plan to.
Another health pioneer who is all for walking is wellness guru Dr. Andrew Weil, who says that putting in 45 brisk minutes a day is "quite simply the best practice I can imagine for a lifetime of health."
Among walking's benefits, he lists:
Longer life: A study of some 8,000 men published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that over 12 years, walking two miles a day dropped the risk of death by nearly 50 percent. Walking seems to be particularly protective against cancer. The walkers cut their risk of death from cancer during the study period by about 65 percent.
Lower weight: Several studies have shown that walking from 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day—roughly four to five miles—is highly effective as a means of weight loss.
A better brain: The National Council on Aging found that walking 45 minutes daily at a rather brisk 16-minute mile pace significantly boosted cognitive performance in people over age 60. Another study found that walking 40 minutes three times weekly slowed the normal, age-related shrinkage of the hippocampus. This part of the brain consolidates short-term memory and is one of the first regions to be damaged in those who have Alzheimer's disease.
Dr. Weil suggests that even though walking is a gentle exercise, you need to put some effort into it to get the real benefit. "You should be able to cover about three miles in 45 minutes," he says. "You should breathe more quickly, and notice a slightly elevated heart rate but still be able to carry on a conversation."
C'mon, get walking!