“Go take a walk.” That can be good advice instead of a dismissal. A simple walk once a day is an easy, cost-free, effective, safe — and enjoyable — physical exercise. No need for a coach, a gym, or workout clothes; just a good pair of walking shoes or sturdy sneakers. You can bring a friend, a mate, a child or grandchild, or join a walking group for company. You can walk in the local park or the mall. You can walk alone and enjoy your solitude and the wonders of the world: all of nature’s work that makes the change of seasons magical and, sometimes, inspirational. A walk a day is a quiet, free, win-win.
Daily walkers can look out for Spring’s first crocus or the early arrival of robins ready for nest-building. Autumn walkers watch the tree leaves turn crimson and gold and hear the crisp crack of fallen leaves on their path. Some people prefer to walk in the fresh, clear morning. The world seems almost new and still, as if it’s holding its breath. Then there are mall walkers who make loops around their local shopping center — a walking path available and comfortable whether rain or shine. Walking is like turning a page every day.
Any Setting Will Do
Not everyone has the opportunity to walk in suburban, rural, or park-like settings, but a daily walk in the city does have its upsides, like variety. Walking in the city reveals a wealth of stimulating sights and sounds. Even if your daily route is the same, each day is different.
For many, walking is a safe and affordable path to physical and emotional health. It is an easy, simple solution for those who can’t, don’t want to, or don’t have the time for a rigorous exercise program — and the results are usually positive. Blood pressure and weight may drop and muscles tighten as the body gets into shape. Walking can help reduce health problems such as obesity, joint pain, the loss of muscle strength … and walking can reduce stress.
A walk a day seems to make people feel better — both mentally and physically. In fact, there is evidence that regular physical activity can do more than make a person feel physically stronger and better. Research indicates that there is a strong link between a safe and regular exercise program, such as walking, and mood enhancement — feeling positive about life. As little as five minutes a day can make the stressed out walker feel better.
Mental health also seems to benefit from exercise. Some of the latest research indicates that a daily stroll — as little as ¾ of a mile — may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease; and for people with mild cognitive impairment, walking a similar distance every day may slow brain degeneration and memory loss. Ongoing mental health research has also focused on exercise as a way of treating — and possibly preventing — anxiety, while working toward an understanding of panic disorders.
For people with crowded schedules, making space for walking means working it into your routine. How about leaving the car at home when possible. Walk to your destination and walk back. Going to the local library? Going to Sunday or Saturday religious services? Walk and eliminate parking problems. On the walk home, think about the sermon or pick up a surprise breakfast. A gentle, contemplative walk after Saturday or Sunday religious services can change the ordinary patterns of the day, ease tension, and give the busy walker a special gift: a moment of contemplation, problem-solving, or silent prayers of gratitude or need.
Some walkers keep diaries of their treks to keep track of progress, of feeling better, and of insights and new awareness that walking offers.
If you are considering a walking program for the first time, start Short and Small — short on time and small on distance; add distance and time in regular increments. If you have a complicated health problem, check with your physician … and then “go take a walk ….”