Walking to Well Being
Nature’s design for good health
Posted November 26, 2015
The Last Great Walk by Wayne Curtis describes Edward Weston’s journey on foot from New York to San Francisco in 1909 – around the time Americans stopping walking and began to drive. At the end of his introduction, Curtis makes the convincing claim that not walking is one of the most radical decisions we’ve ever made.
We are designed for walking. Those of us who are able bodied can literally walk our way to good health. Walking keeps us moving and makes us feel good.
According to the Mayo Clinic, regular walking helps prevent or manage heart disease, high blood pressure, asthma, and Type 2 Diabetes, while maintaining weight and improving balance and coordination. Various studies have shown that regular walking reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, while lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol and elevating HDL (good) cholesterol.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends a minimum of 2½ hours a week of moderate activity – which translates into one brisk half-hour walk each day, five days a week. Regular walking also strengthens bones, increasing their density as it increases circulation and oxygen to your cells. In fact, a walk actually increases your energy level – by elevating circulation and increasing oxygen in all your cells. Walking boosts us physiologically and makes us less tired.
Walking also uplifts the psyche. In his essay, Walking, Thoreau speaks of people living in town who are rejuvenated just with their memories of walks in the woods, “elevated for a moment . . . by the reminiscence of a previous state of existence.” About himself, Thoreau said, “I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least . . . sauntering through the woods and over hills and fields, absolutely free from worldly engagements.” His instructions: “walk like a camel,” ruminating while you go.
While most of us do not have four hours a day for walking or a benefactor like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau was on the right path about the enlightenment and joy of walking, especially outdoors, in nature. And not only when it’s warm and pleasant. (As Minnesotan’s say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.) Few activities are so simple and so beneficial to our health as a walk outside. Instead of taking a nap after a second generous helping of Thanksgiving leftovers, take a walk.
For those who live close enough, walking to work is a healthy way to prepare for the work day and to unwind afterwards. If work is too far to walk, simply park your car farther away. I purposely park more than a half mile from my office, thereby getting in an early walk and a later one, while also bypassing the struggles of trying to park closer. I also opt to park farther away than necessary for special events and appointments. It’s usually easier to find a spot – and the walking makes me feel better.
The original defining feature of our species was bipedalism.
Our first hands-free technology was walking on two legs. We should follow the lead of evolution and walk.