Today I’m taking aim at the idea that in order for exercise to count, you have to be wearing spandex and you have to break a sweat, and I’m doing it by shining a light on the life-changing magic of a daily walk.
It’s part of a week of episodes dedicated to helping you reap the many amazing benefits of exercise (that I covered in yesterday’s episode, so if you missed it go back and listen! Hearing just how powerful medicine movement is will help inspire you to do it.)
You’re reading the transcript of an episode of the How to Be a Better Person podcast. If you’d rather listen, click the play button below.
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I know a lot of people got thrown off of regular exercise during the pandemic because gyms closed
Maybe you walked or ran or rode your bike in the early days of lockdown but then winter set in and it kind of fell by the wayside. Maybe you did a mind-meld with your at home office chair and the couch and then inertia took over.
I have talked to a few people who maybe got a Peloton and really got in to it and are now in the best shape of their lives. If this is you, high fives to you! I celebrate your success. But for most people, as spring of 2022 is dawning, so is the realization that their bodies need some TLC. And walking–so long as it is within the realm of what your body can do–is the perfect way back into feeling better in your body.
It’s accessible to all fitness levels. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You can do it just by walking out your front door. It’s functional–meaning, it can help you get where you need to go. Humans essentially evolved to walk upright. By going for a walk around your
neighborhood you are fulfilling a biological imperative that helped to drive the evolution of our species and you’re taking your place in a long lineage of homo sapiens.
I’m a HUGE fan of a daily walk–or what people at the turn of the 20th century used to call a constitutional, because it was so supportive of your constitution.
Here are the ways a daily walk can change your life:
Taking a walk after dinner encourages digestion and helps your body move glucose out of the blood and into the muscles where it can be used for energy instead of stored for fat.
Lower blood sugar levels means less insulin needs to be released, which lowers your chances for developing insulin resistance, or helps insulin resistance resolve if you already have it, as 40 percent of Americans aged 18 – 44 do. Insulin resistance is a precursor to type 2 diabetes, and avoiding that common disease is a pretty big life change, I’d say!
Walking boosts immunity
One study tracked 1,000 adults during flu season. Those who took a walk that lasted 30-45 minutes each day took 43 percent fewer sick days. They caught fewer viral infections in general but when they did get an upper respiratory tract infection, their symptoms were less severe than the sedentary group. You know how everyone you know has caught a cold this spring (at least they have here in the Northeast.) Well what if you spent 43 percent fewer days sick than your neighbor who doesn’t walk? And when you did get sick, you didn’t feel as bad? Yeah, another pretty great life change.
Walking can be social
You can do it with a friend and get some time where you can support each other and figure out ways to address the challenges you’re each facing. If you don’t have a local walking buddy, you can call a friend or family member who lives far away and connect with them while you walk. So it can help you feel more supported and connected to others–two things that are vital for physical and mental health, and pretty life-changing, I’d say.
Here’s a weird thing you may not have considered:
Walking is also great for your eyes
And the muscles of your eyes, which are designed to view things at all different distances, but we spend more of our time looking intently at screens that are about two feet away. Getting out and looking at the sky and things across the street and way up ahead is all great for your actual eyes as well as your perspective–it reminds you that there’s a lot more to the world than whatever’s going on in your little corner of it. Seeing things differently, literally and metaphorically–that’s a pretty important part of life and anything we can do to maintain our objectivity and observational skills are worth their weight in gold.
And perhaps most importantly…
At this particular moment when so many people are struggling with their mental health thanks to the effects of the pandemic, walking has been shown to benefit depression and anxiety, and to tone the nervous system so that you feel less stressed and are less reactive to stressors. Ummm…TOTALLY LIFE CHANGING!!
I have been taking at least one daily walk since we got our dog Cookie five years ago
6 days a week, I take her on a mid-day walk. Sometimes it’s 15 minutes, just down to the park and back, sometimes it’s a longer foray down the pretty tree-lined Boulevard or through a cemetery, and sometimes we meet friends and go on a romp through the woods. It’s become a crucial part of my work process–it revives me after lunch when my energy would otherwise sink. I often get an idea about something I’m working on while I’m out there, I get fresh air, I clear my head. It helps me get another good burst of work after the kids get home from school and before dinner, when I used to just sort of click around on various headlines, trying to work but not really having the mental energy to do much.
(As an aside, if you really want to walk more, get a dog. They will force you out of the house, every day, in all kinds of weather, even when you don’t feel like doing anything, and you will always be glad afterward that you got up and did it.)
Daily Tiny Assignment
Your tiny assignment is to go on a walk today. Maybe you’re a morning person–I see people walking while I’m driving the kids to school and think it looks like a great way to wake up. Or maybe you like a mid-day break, like me. Or maybe after work or after dinner is a better time for you. It really doesn’t matter when, but if you’re stuck on ideas try walking after a meal so that you get those digestion and blood sugar benefits. It doesn’t matter if your walk is 5 minutes or 55 minutes–just get out there.
What might a daily walk look like for you? If you’re not sure how you’d find the time, I’ve got that episode coming up for you on Thursday. Tomorrow, I’m interviewing my personal trainer whom I just adore because he keeps me consistently exercising and getting stronger and feeling the good feelings that come from taking care of your body, for his perspective on why exercise is such an important part of life, and why 99% percent of excuses for not exercising are B.S.