Ten Reasons to Get Out for a Short Walk Today
Even though the days are getting colder and shorter, getting outdoors for a 15 minute walk is so beneficial to your health, you should be sure you make time each day to lace up your shoes and head out the door.
One of the most common excuses for not getting daily exercise is not having the time. We all have 1440 minutes each and every day. Fifteen minutes is only 1% of that total time. Rearrange your schedule today for a short walk and you will get these ten benefits:
Increase in Life Expectancy
Phil Vasyli, a podiatrist and founder of Orthaheel and Vionic Performance Footwear, notes that a 15 minute bout of exercise each day can increase your life expectancy by three years, even if you have cardiovascular disease risk factors. Daily physical activity is especially important for older adults, because maintaining an active lifestyle into the senior years has been shown to reduce blood pressure, inflammation, blood sugar and other markers of chronic disease. Exercise can also boost immunity.
Although it only takes 15 minutes to see improved health benefits, the American Heart Association recommends that we strive for 30 minutes a day, or 2 ½ hours a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.
Did you know that daily exercise can increase the size of the brain and reverse some memory loss in older adults? Researchers from four universities came together for a study published earlier this year and found that those who walked 40 minutes a day, three times per week, actually increased the size of the hippocampus (the portion of the brain responsible for memory) by almost 2%.
A separate study, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that those who took walks outdoors in natural settings performed 20% better on memory and attention tests than those who walked in an urban area.
Those who participate in daily exercise tend to sleep better at night. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that insufficient sleep has become a common complaint among American adults. Although we need 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night, almost a third of us get 6 hours or less. Not getting enough rest leads to many negative health effects, including an inability to concentrate and a greater risk of conditions such as obesity, hypertension and depression.
Is there a best time of day to exercise so that you sleep better at night? A study by Appalachian State University assistant professor Scott Collier PhD FACSM finds that morning walks led to significantly greater improvements in sleep quality over those who take afternoon or evening walks. But really, getting outdoors and exposed to some natural sunlight at any point in the day can help regulate the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that controls the sleep cycle, says Dr. Vasyli.
Strengthen the Body
Walking is a weight-bearing exercise that maintains or even improves bone density, which becomes especially important as we get older. Walking not only promotes bone health, but also strengthens all major muscles and keeps the internal organs working properly. Having problems with heartburn or constipation? Millions of Americans do. Walking can aid digestion, prevent heart burn, and keep the entire gastrointestinal tract in good working order.
Revitalize and Gain Energy
Many of us complain about feeling run down or out of energy. We often use this excuse to avoid exercising, but in fact, getting outdoors for a short walk is one of the best things you can do to revitalize. A study published by the University of Georgia Exercise Psychology Lab in 2008 finds that those who are sedentary can increase energy levels by 20% and decrease fatigue by 65% with just 20 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity three times per week.
Take note of how you are sitting right now as you read this article. Are you slumped forward toward the computer screen? Bad posture can lead to back, shoulder and neck pain as well as frequent headaches, reflux (heartburn) and poor breathing. Consistent walking can help improve your posture by strengthening the core muscles in the abdominal and lower back as well as the thighs and buttocks. And remember, good posture can also make you look taller and thinner!
Boost Metabolism, Lose (or Maintain) Weight
More than 60% of us carry excess weight. While ingesting excess calories and eating a poor diet are definitely factors, for many of us, the answer is as simple as getting out and taking a daily walk. We are definitely a more sedentary society than we were just 40 or 50 years ago. A recent study finds that the average American burns 100 fewer calories a day than we did in the early 1960’s. That can lead to a potential weight gain of 4.4 pounds per year.
A 40 minute walk at a moderate pace (60 to 65% of your maximum heart rate) is best for boosting metabolism and burning off excess calories. But don’t forget to inject some faster paced walks into your workouts as well, as shorter faster walks (20 to 25 minutes at 75 to 85% MHR) are best for conditioning the cardiovascular system and preventing heart disease.
There has recently been an increase in the prescribing of antidepressant drugs in the United States, particularly among women. Many blame the increase in depression on the struggling economy or on the stresses of everyday that seem to have no end. But there is an easy solution. Yep – Get outside for a walk!
Ecotherapy is a new term which involves getting active outdoors in nature and sunlight. Walking in a country park was found to make almost three-fourths of UK study participants feel less tense according to a Mind.org survey. A full 94% said that getting outdoors makes them feel happy and less depressed. Many even reported an improved sense of self-esteem.
For those who are already ill, walking can help bring them back to health. The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) notes that walking is a central element of medical rehabilitation. If you are admitted to a hospital for just about any illness, you will note the medical staff encouraging you to get out of bed and take a walk. Inactivity contributes to muscle atrophy and lack of muscle movement can lead to a higher risk of death. Those who walk during their hospitalizations actually tend to have shorter length of stays.
Overall Good Health
Taking a daily walk brings overall good health from top to bottom. Mental health is improved, cardiovascular health is maintained and muscle strength is increased. It is never too early or too late to start. Children who walk each day are shown to have improved academic achievement which puts them in a better position for adult success. Older adults who take up a daily exercise routine can reduce disease risk factors and improve quality of life.