Yes, WALKING. I’m not talking about incline walking, jogging, power walking (“mall-walking”), or any other variation of walking, other than just plain ‘ol walking.
Walking is one of those things that is coded in our DNA as humans for a reason: It’s necessary for survival.
It’s as necessary as breathing, eating, and drinking.
If we didn’t have the conveniences of modern medicine and technology, if you don’t walk, you die.
Because we’ve introduced things like Cars, Couches, and Computers (the 3 C’s of comfort), we no longer have to walk nearly as much in order to do things like gather food, socialize, and entertain ourselves. This makes our bodies and brains stiffer, oftentimes causing pain, numbness, and lack of range, in both mind and body.
Brain fog, inability to be open-minded or understand things from different perspectives, inability to be aware of surroundings, mental boredom, and laziness/procrastination are just some of the side effects for brain health of not walking on a regular basis.
On the physical side, there’s a whole network of neural and biomechanical connections that need to be exercised on a regular basis, otherwise those connections get diminished or lost (read: grease the wheel, lubed up, use it or lose it). Meaning, if you don’t use the natural movement of walking, you turn into a more non-human being, mechanically. Sit too much, your hip flexors become tight. Deadlift too much, your hip extensors become too tight. Throw a ball too much, your body gets good at throwing balls, but not good at anything else (like walking or doing dishes). And so on.
Walking involves EVERY SINGLE muscle and joint in the body. And it does so in a pre-programmed way so we don’t have to think about it (or, at least, we shouldn’t have to think about it!).
This means that every joint and muscle in your body gets some of that move ‘n groove, greased wheel, proprioceptive stimulation love that it needs. You get some compression, some decompression, rotation, flexion, extension, bounce, cross-patterning, synergistic goodness every time you walk. If you walk outside, you also get added benefits of increasing awareness of your surroundings (which trains your sensory systems), and the fresh breeze and outdoor light (aka “the sun”) that are also super good for you in many different ways.
When you briskly walk for 20+ minutes, your heart also gets a pretty good “wake up” and enjoys that natural relaxing stimulant (yep, oxymoron, but it’s true). It’s a great way to get some light cardio in without involving the sympathetic nervous system, so it’s SUPER good for chronic stress (which includes digestive stress!).
Walking is also really good for releasing your happy hormones (serotonin and dopamine), and when timed well, great as an aide in digestion or a nice “pick me up.” Yes, walks are beneficial both in the mornings and at night!
There’s also some magic that happens when you do the things that nature intended. There’s a lot more than I can explain in an email, and very likely much more than I can fully comprehend, but basically, walking connects some dots in the circuitry of our bodies and brains, and allows us to “light up” more when the circuitry is complete.
I highly recommend making a 20+ minute walk part of your daily routine. Something as important as brushing your teeth, drinking your water, and getting your giggles in (you know how I feel about giggles!).
Some tips to help you get even more out of your walks:
– Do it outside, not on a treadmill. Nature itself (even if you’re in the city) has so many extra benefits that are so simple to get, that it’s silly not to do your walk outside. If you live in a highly polluted area, make sure that you check the air quality before you walk, and see if you can go for your walks during the times where the air quality is the best (typically in the mornings before rush hour), and if you can do it where there are more trees and green things, that’s also ideal (plants filter out the air pollution, so the air around them is cleaner).
– If you’re on grass or dirt (ideal), go barefoot or minimalist shoes (if you’re ready for it, otherwise, work towards it). Increasing your connection to the ground is super important. It connects more dots in our circuitry, increasing our brain capabilities. Wearing shoes that block out the textures of what we’re walking on would be like a blind person trying to read braille with winter mittens on (yea, not even gloves). We can’t get the information we’re supposed to be getting if we block out our senses.
– If you’re walking on concrete or asphalt, have flexible soles on your shoes, but also have SOME cushion on them, too. DON’T GO BAREFOOT. There’s this trend right now to go barefoot everywhere, all the time. But like everything else, there’s a time and place for everything. Yes, we’re meant to be barefoot by nature, but we’re also meant to be doing that on natural surfaces. Concrete and asphalt are not natural. They are too hard for our bodies to go long-term barefoot on. There’s too much impact for our joints, and this can cause a faster “wear and tear” effect on our bodies.
– Don’t have any audio distractions while you’re walking. Just walk and pay attention to your surroundings. You get to pay more attention to your movements and your surroundings when your brain isn’t distracted by music or podcasts. Think about it this way, have you ever noticed how it’s easier for you to run for longer, lift heavier, or just DO things longer/more when you’ve got music on? This is in part due to your brain not getting to focus on the movement and your surroundings. In turn, you also don’t get as much benefit out of the thing you’re doing, either. You’re distracted. Try exercising without music, without podcasts, and see how you feel after a few weeks of doing so.
– Vary your route. Go different places, so it’s not so routine. You get a lot more mental and sensory stimulation that way. It’s a lot more exciting, and your brain gets to learn more things.
– Pay attention to your surroundings, notice things. Again, your brain gets to learn more, and it’s more exciting.
– Stop to smell the roses, or watch a snail, or say hi to a lizard. Don’t think of walking as a “Point A to Point B” type of activity. Allow yourself to enjoy the scenery and the things you encounter. It brings out more wonderment and curiosity (I write all about the benefits of curiosity in my upcoming E-Book!), and it makes the walk more of a fun journey or adventure.
– Don’t wear sunscreen, sunglasses, or a hat. But also don’t go when the sun is the most harsh. Mid-morning or late afternoon walks are typically the best times to get the “good” sun rays. They have the least amount of harmful rays (you know, the ones that can burn you and give you skin cancer), and the most amount of beneficial rays (like the ones that HEAL sunburns, and help regulate your cortisol/melatonin!). In order to get those benefits, though, you have to allow the sun’s rays to enter into your body via eyes and skin. So if you cover them up, you’re blocking yourself from all the good stuff!
– Close your mouth. Breathing through your nose ensures that the walk doesn’t get you into a sympathetic response, so your brain and body can ENJOY the walk, rather than categorizing it as a “fight or flight” and have to recover from it. It also does all the good stuff that normal nose-breathing does for you, too (did you read my previous article on nose breathing?). If you need help with this part, you can always just have some water in your mouth for the entire walk.
– Enjoy your walk. You don’t have to ONLY walk for the whole time. You can stop and explore a tree, balance on some rocks, say hello or chase a flock of birds, whatever. As long as you’ve walked for 20+ minutes, you’re good to go. If you can find enjoyment in the things you do, you’re more likely to continue to do them long term.
Walk every day. Make it a point to do so. Your body and brain will thank you.
Best in Health and Happiness,