Walking Series #1
My 98-year old grandmother takes daily walks. I think these walks are one of the primary reasons she’s still so engaged and vibrant at this advanced age. She’ll go in most kinds of weather and for the past five years she has used a walker at a very slow pace, but she won’t miss it, even on the days her back hurts a little or she’s feeling tired. She’ll wave to a neighbor, comment on someone’s beautiful flowers, or just walk in silence. And she’ll always return home a little happier than when she left.
She is really onto something; something much deeper than I understood before embarking on some research; walking is, in fact, one of the best, yet most underrated, ways to stay healthy physically and mentally. Harvard Health ranks it in the top 5 exercises you can do, WebMD ranks it in the top 7, and in 2015, the US Surgeon general issued a national call to action to “Step it Up,” to make American a more walkable country citing the many benefits of walking.
Walking for Physical Health
“Walking is the best possible exercise,” said Thomas Jefferson, who died in 1826 at 84 years old when the average life expectancy for a man at that time was half that age. Today’s data on the health benefits of walking is incredibly compelling. Comparing the results of studies on walking and running (by National Walkers’ Health Study and National Runners’ Health Study respectively), researchers found that the effort needed for moderate-intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running resulted in similar health benefits. They both led to a lower risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease over the study’s six-year period. And these benefits are the tip of the iceberg.
Walking for Mental Health
Myriad mental health benefits of walking include decreased stress, improved mood and memory and greater creativity. A Stanford University study focused on creativity, as defined by “relative output,” found that when compared with creativity while sitting, creativity increased by an average of 60 percent while walking. Nietzsche wrote, “all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” In fact, according to one philosopher’s blog, Neitzsche walked up to eight hours a day when he was writing books, stopping only to write down important thoughts that came to him.
My plan is to explore the many benefits of walking over the next several weeks. In my next essay, I’ll dig a little deeper into the physiological benefits of walking, particularly as it relates to your joints, bones and muscles. In the meantime, the next time someone tells you to “go take a hike,” consider it a compliment rather than an insult. And take their advice – you’ll feel better and be healthier because of it!