by Maria Luci, editor at Maria's Farm Country Kitchen and Rodale's
What's a simple, fun, and beneficial exercise you can easily add to your daily routine? Taking a good stroll!
Yes, walking. The beauty of walking as exercise is that it takes little to no equipment (just some shoes and maybe a little sunscreen) and boasts a long list of benefits, including a reduced risk of some diseases and a general improvement in health. Walking is also low risk, easier on the joints than running, and can be taken up by almost anyone of any age or fitness level. Even better, walking outdoors has been shown to produce a host of positive effects that make any excuse you may have for sitting on your bum just not good enough.
- Walking outdoors lowers stress, lifts mood, and helps the heart. A recent study showed that walking in pleasant outdoor spaces both lowered stress and improved mood. The study showed the walking in general, not just outside, was helpful in alleviating stress, but that the biggest benefits came from walking outdoors, and that the benefits lasted for at least 30 minutes afterward. Another proponent of walking outdoors is George Gubernikoff, MD, director of the cardiology fellowship program at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine, who regularly walks at a botanical garden near his home. Of this walk, Dr. Gubernikoff has said, "the pathways are intriguing and spur you to walk farther than you might have otherwise. Plus, steps, stairs, and inclines make your heart pump at varying rates, which may be more beneficial than fixed-pace exercise." So lace up and get outside!
- Walking helps you maintain a healthy weight. You don't have to run for miles or take up Crossfit to lose weight. Physical activity as simple and pleasant as walking can help you burn more calories and maintain a healthy weight. According to Katherine Zeratsky, RD, LD, adding just 30 minutes of brisk walking to your daily routine can help you burn close to an added 150 calories a day, which, along with a healthy, reduced-calorie diet, can help you lose and keep off the extra pounds.
- Walking can improve your circulation. A 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association showed that a walking program helped improve blood flow for those with poor leg circulation. Walking may even help decrease pain from poor circulation by improving oxygen delivery to tissues and decreasing plaque buildup in arteries.
- Walking slows mental decline. Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of dementia by as much as 50 percent. Kirk Erickson, PhD, of the University of Pittsburgh, has spent decades researching the brain and published his findings in in 2012. Yes, something as simple as a daily walk can help ward off dementia, according to Erickson, who added that just, "roughly 30 to 40 minutes of brisk walking several times a week will improve brain function and cognitive performance."
- Walking helps you sleep better. We're all about the daily walk for improved sleep. (Walking and comfy pajamas!) Why? Because exercise during the day (especially in the morning) can boost the effect of the sleep hormone melatonin at night. In the article "8 Secrets to a Good Night's Sleep," Harvard Women's Health Watch newsletter endorses a brisk daily walk, especially one taken in the morning, as it can help you achieve a better night's sleep. Moreover, the article states that, "A study in the journal Sleep found that postmenopausal women who exercised for about three-and-a-half hours a week had an easier time falling asleep than women who exercised less often."
- Walking allows you to connect with nature and your thoughts. No screens, no phone calls, no distractions. Walking outside, it's just you reconnecting with nature. Take a deep breath, delight in your surroundings, and feel that deeper connection forming between you, nature, and your inner mind.
Maria Luci is the manager and editor at Maria's Farm Country Kitchen and content creator and editor at Rodale's. She grew up in Virginia, but now lives just outside Philadelphia with her husband, a black cat, and several Aloe plants. When not writing and editing, she's usually cooking up organic recipes or running--or eating when she should be running.
For more from Maria Rodale, visit www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com