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Health & Exercise Forum

Walk Your Worries Away

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Oct 14, 2020

A Pandemic Therapy

For most, walking can be the perfect pandemic activity. Walking is socially distanced, yet not isolated, while offering many health benefits.

Walking changes the world. Recently, when protesters demanding racial justice marched on Washington, they followed the footsteps of defiant walkers throughout history. From Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian independence movement to Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement, walking and protest have been interrelated.

Walking is about more than walking, and always has been. Walking soothes. Walking inspires and sharpens the mind. The pandemic has taken away much... not only lives, livelihoods, but our need to feel free too. While there is much we can’t do, WE CAN WALK!

It might be said that with the right mindset, every walk is a pilgrimage. Many a breakthrough has been stumbled upon while putting one foot in front of the other. We run from problems. We walk toward solutions. While working on A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens would walk 15 or 20 miles through the back streets of London, turning over the plot in his mind as the city slept. Beethoven found inspiration while ambling in the verdant Wienerwald outside Vienna.

Recent studies suggest that walking stimulates our creative mind is at its most creative at three miles per hour, the speed of a moderately paced stroll. Stanford University researchers divided participants into two groups: walkers and sitters. They then administered a test designed to measure creativity. They found that creative thinking was “consistently and significantly” higher for the walkers than the sitters. It didn’t take a lot of walking to boost creativity, either—anywhere from 5 to 16 minutes.

Studies have also shown that people who walk regularly are healthier and live longer than those who don’t. Surprisingly, you don’t have to walk very fast or far to enjoy this benefit. One recent study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, put the 10,000-step myth to rest. It is an arbitrary number. People—older adults in particular—accrue health benefits by taking only a few thousand steps each day, and at a leisurely pace.

Benefits of Walking

In addition to stimulating creativity and reducing stress, walking has many benefits. “There’s no question that increasing exercise, even moderately, reduces the risks of many diseases, including coronary heart disease, breast and colon cancer, and Type 2 diabetes,” said Dr. Jennifer Joyce, MD, professor of family medicine at GCSOM. “Research has even shown that you could gain two hours of life for each hour that you exercise regularly.”

According to the American Heart Association, walking as little as 30 minutes a day can provide the following benefits:

  • Improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels
  • Help maintain a healthy body weight and lower the risk of obesity
  • Reduce the risk of osteoporosis
  • Enhance mental well-being
  • Stimulates creative thinking

Like everything, there is a right way of doing something, even walking. For efficiency and safety, walking with proper stride is important. A fitness stride requires good posture and purposeful movements. Ideally, here's how you'll look when you're walking:

  • Head up, look forward – glance at the ground but don’t stare down.
  • Relax your neck, shoulders and back – avoid a rigid upright posture.
  • Swing your arms freely with a slight bend in your elbows.
  • Keep your stomach muscles slightly tightened (work the core) with a straight back.
  • Walking smoothly - rolling your foot from heel to toe.

Plan Ahead

  • Gear Up – but don’t go overboard. Good running shoes with proper arch support and shock absorption. Wear weather appropriate dry tech clothing with bright, reflective visible colors.
  • Select the Best Path – begin on level surfaces like a “rails to trails.” In inclement weather consider walking in a shopping mall.
  • Warm up. Walk slowly for five to 10 minutes to warm up your muscles and prepare your body for exercise.
  • Cool down. At the end of your walk, walk slowly for five to 10 minutes to help your muscles cool down.
  • Stretch. After you cool down, gently stretch your muscles. If you want to stretch before you walk, remember to warm up first.

Set Realistic Goals

Anything is better than nothing! However, for most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week. Also aim to do strength training exercises of all major muscle groups at least two times a week.

As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. If you can't set aside that much time, try several short sessions of activity throughout the day. Even small amounts of physical activity are helpful, and accumulated activity throughout the day adds up to provide health benefits.

Remember it's OK to start slowly — especially if you haven't been exercising regularly. You might start with five minutes a day the first week, and then increase your time by five minutes each week until you reach at least 30 minutes.

For even more health benefits, aim for at least 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.

Track Your Progress

Keeping a record of how many steps you take, the distance you walk and how long it takes can help you see where you started from and serve as a source of inspiration. Record these numbers in a walking journal or log them in a spreadsheet or a physical activity app. Another option is to use an electronic device such as a pedometer or fitness tracker to calculate steps and distance.

Sources: National Geographic; Mayo Clinic

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.     

Keep moving, eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, and live long and well!

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This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.