Levels of burnout are at an all-time high. The incidence of depression, obesity, and preventable diseases continue to rise. Cortisol levels are up, and happiness levels are down. Microsoft has reported that our typical attention-span is eight seconds, which is shorter than that of a goldfish. We crave connection, seek wellness, and need focus.
If there was one thing that you could do that would combat every one of these challenges, would you do it? What if that one thing required no equipment, no special location, no pill or potion, no gym membership, no trip to the doctor or appointment with a therapist, would you be in? Great. Lace up your sneakers, and go take a walk. I know, I know. It seems impossible to believe and too good to be true. But it is. Reams of research have established that a regular walking practice can be transformative for your mind, your mood, and your body.
Walking For Your Mind
Our miraculous brains—these incredible, mysterious organs enable us to create, learn, and love. They keep us from tripping over a curb (usually) and make it possible for us to tie our sneakers or roast a potato. They ingrain habits and enable humor. And though scientists have only just begun to unravel the mysteries of how our brains work, one thing is clear: a regular walking practice helps our brains function at their very best.
In the short term, a walk boosts our energy, helps us resist decision fatigue, deepens our concentration, improves our executive function, enhances our problem solving, and makes us more creative. How much more creative? A seminal study by researchers at Stanford University showed that a 20-minute walk can boost creativity by 60 percent.
And over the long term? A regular walking practice can improve your memory, combat dementia, and literally make your brain bigger. Yup, several studies have shown that a regular walking practice adds volume to the hippocampus, a critical region of the brain associated with learning, memory, and emotions. Simply put, walking leads to a better brain.
Walking For Your Mood
Though you probably don’t need the statistics to tell you, according to a March 2021 report by the American Psychological Association, nearly half of Americans reported increases in stress and anxiety over the preceding year. We are pretty much all experiencing the cumulative effects of surviving our first global pandemic. Extensive research and boatloads of anecdotal evidence shows that walking is a powerful mood booster. Several studies have indicated that, for many people, exercise is as effective as antidepressant medication.
How does walking impact your mood? Researchers aren’t entirely sure, but they believe the answer involves several related mechanisms. Walking reduces stress and anxiety, lowers cortisol levels, boosts serotonin, improves brain health, positively impacts self-esteem, and delivers a dose of the restorative effect of time spent in nature. All of that? Yes, all of that and more.
Walking For Your Body
As my 93-year-old dad, a retired coach and lifelong athlete, recently said, “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become even more convinced that exercise is the key to my longevity.” As usual, Dad, you are spot on. Over the past several decades, research has proven that exercise in general—and walking in particular—can literally add years to our lives. Walking has been shown to materially reduce the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. It can strengthen our bones, combat osteoporosis, and lower our risk of several types of cancers. Walking supports our immune systems and regulates healthy blood sugar levels. It also reduces the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s and helps to keep us active, mobile, and engaged with the world, which are key markers for a long and happy life.
A regular walking practice is so powerfully associated with longevity that a recent study showed that more than 110,000 American deaths could be prevented if adults added just 10 minutes of brisk walking to their daily routines, while another revealed that three hours of brisk walking per week reduces the risk of heart attack by 30 to 40 percent.
More life. More vitality. More happiness. More creativity. More clarity.
All from the simple act of lacing up your sneakers and strolling out the door.