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This Walking Life: Body, Mind & Soul

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Walking is the most basic and natural form of exercise for we humans. In fact, it was required for survival in our early years on the planet. We wouldn’t be here today if not for our marvelous legs.

We used them to plant, forage, and hunt. We used them to carry water from the river or the well. We used them to herd domesticated animals. We used them to get from one place to another, to attend school, work, or church. We used them to visit family members many miles away. We used them to explore continents. And beyond basic everyday necessity, we used them to stroll, to center, to find solitude, to think, and to bond with each other and this planet we call home.

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Our ancestor male and female hunter-gatherers typically walked 16,000-17,000 steps (about eight miles) each day. Cardiovascular disease was rare even among older individuals in the tribe.

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Today, with cars, bikes, scooters, and public transport, walking is no longer our primary mode of getting from here to there. This reality led over time to a steep decline in the amount of walking most humans do on a daily basis. 

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But just because we no longer need to walk as much as we used to, that doesn’t mean the benefits of daily walking have changed. The human body/mind was engineered to walk. Most humans like to walk. That’s built in too. Walking is an enjoyable, sustainable way of life that more than ever deserves a place in our daily routine.

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Why? Because a sedentary lifestyle is not good for the body, mind, or soul. The consequences of the sedentary lifestyle are dire. A walking-deprived lifestyle has wide-ranging adverse impacts on the human body including increased all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, cancer risk, and risk of various metabolic disorders.

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And we saw first-hand what a sedentary lifestyle could do to otherwise healthy humans during the recent pandemic. Much of the population “sheltered in place” isolating themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually. The body suffered. The mind suffered. The soul suffered.

As for me (and hopefully many of you as well) I kept walking. Alone. Day after day, many miles each day, rain or shine. During the pandemic the streets of Portland Metro were eerily devoid of human chatter, human smiles, human comradery, even human decency. It was a side of humanity I had not experienced previously. And frankly it was shocking. But also liberating. Because somewhere along this long, lonely, desolate journey I discovered something important.

I discovered Me.

This female person who could walk alone for miles, get lost, get scared, find her way home. This female person who could smile and wish someone well as they cursed her in passing. This female person who could look into the eyes of a troubled male coming toward her, wildly wielding a large bamboo stick, and simply keep going. This female person who wouldn’t stop walking, blessing, thanking the Universe throughout a long pandemic “come hell or highwater.” And now that I’ve discovered her, I’ll never let her go.

You can do it too.

5 Miles a Day, 7 Days a Week

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So how do we turn this growing trend–the sedentary lifestyle–around? At least for ourselves?

What we don’t do is hop on the latest exercise fad with little thought about it’s long term viability and manageability in our busy daily lives. No. Instead, we choose a low-impact exercise that’s doable on a daily basis, forever. Because that’s key. Daily. And Forever.

That’s where walking comes in. It’s imminently variable. There are dozens of ways to walk. Pick one. Or create one. And make it FUN.

Fast. Slow. Forward. Backward. Mindful. Silent. Chanting. Singing. Twirling. Alone. Together. With or without a camera. With or without a headset. It’s YOUR walk. Celebrate it.

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Did I mention SHOES? The greater your distance each day, the more shoes matter. Fit. Cushioning. Traction.

There are no feet in the world exactly like your feet. Try on a number of brands and styles to find the perfect fit and combination of attributes.

Let’s take my feet as an example. They’re “queen-size” with high arches. (Women’s size 11, narrow width.) This Nike shoe, which is super stretchy with no laces feels good to me. They’re great for wearing around home, lunch with friends, or errands in town.

But what about TERRAIN? Stop and think about the variety of surfaces you walk each day. Are they city sidewalks or country trails? Or a combination of both?

The downside of the shoe above is that the bottom surface does not have enough traction to prevent slipping on wet, muddy, or icy pavement. So I wear them on dry surfaces, in fair weather only.

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Once we have our perfect shoes, we begin. One day at a time. And we don’t stop. Ever. (Okay, maybe a day off ocassionally.)

One foot in front of the other, one step at a time, every day, for at least 10,000 steps (5 miles).

NOTE And yes, you may have to work up gradually to that magical 5 miles. I began on Day 1 walking one block. On Day 2 I walked two blocks. Etc. Etc. Until fast forward a few months to that magical day I accidentally walked 7 MILES. And now, years later, I recently walked my new top distance of 15 miles. With no breaks.

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Top Ten Walking Benefits

And before that first month is over we begin to feel the following benefits kicking in. Not only does walking (especially fast walking) get the heart pumping and help build muscle, it’s also easy on the joints.

  1. Weight Management: Walking 5 miles a day at a moderate pace (30 minute mile) can burn a substantial number of calories over time. 1 pound of body weight equates to 3,500 calories. To lose 1 pound, you need to walk 70,000 steps (35 miles). Over the course of a week, this equates to 10,000 steps a day (5 miles). Typically this commitment will result in a loss of 10 pounds in 10 weeks. (Imagine what daily walking over a year will do for your body? And because you did it slowly, with muscle building as part of the process, the weight you lost has a higher probability of never returning.
  2. Cardiovascular Health: Daily walking improves cardiovascular health. It strengthens the heart, reduces risk of heart disease and stroke, and helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  3. Muscle Strength and Endurance: Walking tones muscles, especially in the lower body. It also improves endurance and overall body strength. (Adding arm movement, arm weights, or walking sticks while walking will produce even more gain.)
  4. Mental Health Benefits: Walking, especially in natural environments, can significantly improve mental health. It reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety, enhances mood, and improves self-esteem.
  5. Better Sleep: Daily walkers sleep better. Walking reduces stress and anxiety, which are common causes of sleep disturbances.
  6. Increased Energy Levels: Walking increases energy levels by improving circulation and increasing oxygen supply to every cell in the body.
  7. Improved Digestion: Walking aids in digestion. A regular walking habit can help prevent constipation and support the overall digestive system.
  8. Bone Health: Walking is a weight-bearing exercise, which means it’s great for bone health. It helps maintain bone density, thus reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
  9. Boosts Immune Function: Daily walking boosts the immune system.
  10. Social Interaction and Community Engagement: Group walking enhances social interaction, mental health, and a sense of belonging.

One Final Tip

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If you’re serious about incorporating a daily walk regimen into your life, splurge on an Apple Watch (or other distance/step calculator), strap it on in the morning, and leave it on until just before hitting bed at night. It tracks your daily walking. You’ll be surprised how many steps/miles you can get each day by just walking around the house and yard. Awareness is key. It will assist you in achieving your healthy movement goals.

And JOIN our monthly group walks all around Portland Metro: PDX Women Who Walk on Meetup. Hope to see you soon!

Additional Resources

Susan S. Bradley

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