Walking gets lots of attention as a form of exercise, and for good reason. It doesn’t require any special equipment and you can do it most anywhere.
There has been lots of research into the health benefits of walking for exercise. And lots of people are out there walking for exercise. That's great!
But let's take a look at a few more reasons to walk, 'cause it's more than just exercise!
Folks over 40 can especially benefit from warming up before working out. The number one purpose of a warm-up is—go figure—to raise the temperature of muscles and joints (tendons and ligaments and synovial fluid) to get them ready for activity. The increased blood flow will help them perform better and can help reduce injury risk. Walking is an easy way to get the body moving and the blood flowing. It’s not enough for a really challenging workout, but it’s a good start. It can also help clear your head so you can focus on the hard stuff.
Empirical research into the benefits of a cool-down is less compelling than for warm-ups, but it’s still a good idea, especially if your heart rate has increased significantly. Muscular movement is the mechanism for moving material (alliteration!) through the lymphatic system and increased blood flow can help clear waste products from muscles that have been working hard. It’s also a nice way to unwind mentally, especially if you’ve been doing a particularly intense workout such as wapping.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that the reason humans walk is to get around. Now that most anything can be delivered to your door and driving is the prevalent mode of transportation in many areas, people depend less on walking as a means of travel. But it still works! Take a look at a local map and see what’s within a mile of your location. Those are easy targets. Walking to the grocery store is a common activity for me; it’s not “exercise,” it’s just a way to get things done. Walk to a restaurant for dinner, or to a park for a picnic or some Trac-Ball. Visit friends or relatives. Expand your walking radius to two or three miles and you’ll be going places! It might take a little longer (or not, depending on traffic), but it’s time well spent.
People sometimes take walks to “clear their heads.” The combination of fresh air and movement are a nice contrast to sitting and staring at a screen. The rhythm of your steps can be almost hypnotic, even if you’re not Fred Astaire. Consider it a moving meditation and try not to think about anything but your walking and breathing. I find that going walkies before bed is a great way to relax and sleep better, but you can also try it on a lunch break or any other time during the day when some stress relief would be helpful. And really, isn’t that almost any time?
A walk is a great way to “stay loose.” Sitting for long periods of time causes blood to pool in the lower extremities. Being immobile also means joints aren’t getting the kind of lubrication that only movement can provide. Think of a hinge that doesn’t get used for long periods of time versus that gets used regularly. Which one is more likely to stick? That’s the equivalent of “joint stiffness” that seems to be more common with age. Get walking and unstick those joints! A hard workout can also lead to feeling stiff (and maybe a little sore) later…taking a walk is a great tonic. This is a bonus benefit for pre-bedtime walkies.
A post-meal walk has a long tradition as a great way to aid digestion and studies back it up. You won’t burn off the calories of a big meal (unless you take a REALLY long walk) but a few extra calories can always help. Besides, the main reason for the post-meal walk is not to preemptively burn off what you ate but to help the food move through the digestive system which can help prevent feeling bloated or “heavy” as well as aid in nutrient absorption. (Why not?)
There you have it—six more reasons you should be taking walks every day (as if you needed more reasons). I left out “walk the dog” because if you have a dog you already know that one, and if you don’t then it’s not really an option. (Walking the cat doesn’t really work. And don’t get me started on the fish.) You could always offer to walk the neighbor’s dog, or make some extra money with a dog-walking service. Hmm, now I’m thinking this should have been number seven. Oh well.
If a step-counting device gets you moving, that’s great! Or just make walks part of your everyday routine, even without being “exercise.” Bruce Springsteen may have been Born to Run but we’re all born to walk. You could Walk Like an Egyptian but that would be silly. Steven Tyler might tell you to Walk This Way while Katrina is Walking On Sunshine. (OK, I’m done but you can add more in the comments.)
Make walking a regular part of your life so you can keep doing it for a long, long time.
Be seeing you.