Here's my confession: I love to walk. I walk into town whenever I can, I walk my son to school as he rides his bike, I walk with friends to catch up on our lives and I walk alone just to have some time to myself. If you've met me even once, you know that my confession isn't such a secret after all: I'm a huge promoter of walking as the perfect exercise for all ages. That's why I was thrilled when the surgeon general launched the "Step It Up!" call to action on walking and walkable communities in September.
I believe the campaign is the most exciting physical activity initiative we've ever had in America, and here's why: It gives everyone permission to rethink walking – something we do all day, every day, without thinking about it – as an easy way to fit more physical movement into our lives. Rejoice in the parking space that's three blocks from work! That's three blocks of walking each way that contributes to elevating our moods and enhancing our overall health and well-being.
Walking is a feel-good gift we can give ourselves every single day, as many times as we like. It's free, there's no learning curve (except for toddlers) and it's arguably among the best exercises we can get. Want more reasons to walk? Allow me to provide nine "whys:"
1. Lift your mood.
In my experience, there is no better way to lift a melancholy mood than to take a walk – especially outside. Whether it's a 40-minute walk in the park or a 10-minute stroll in the city, walking outside on most days is among the hardest-hitting self-care tools in my toolkit.
2. Clear your mind.
Need room to think? There's something about walking that enables our minds to let go of the cobwebs and let some light into the dark corners. Just wait for the new, exciting ideas to incubate.
3. Connect with friends.
Phone calls and Facebook are fine, but there is nothing like the conversations we have with our friends when we're walking. Whether we're just laughing together, offloading the events of the week or sharing insights on a deeper level, walking and talking side by side generates real connections.
4. Get a burst of energy.
Studies show that even small amounts of movement generate energy. The next time you feel sluggish, try this: Get up, put on your shoes, grab a jacket if you need it and take a walk around the block. Now ask yourself how you feel. I think you'll be surprised at the difference in your energy level. Maybe you'll even want to walk another block or two before you go back home.
5. Enjoy time with your family.
A family walk can be more than quality time, it can be a way for you and your spouse to reconnect away from the everyday stress of life and work, and a memory your children will cherish and later pass on. If serious is not what you're after, increase the pace of your walk to a chase – and get ready for some family fun!
6. Do it your way.
You can walk slowly; you can walk fast. You can walk and talk, walk to music, listen to a podcast or walk mindfully and let your mind go. You can walk down to the corner, walk to the store, walk a mile or walk across the country. Walk in the way that works for you, and you are doing it right.
7. Fit it into your busy schedule.
No daily schedule – not even yours – is so crammed that you can't claim three to five minutes to walk. Consider all of the walking you do: Whether you're walking from your desk to the bathroom, dashing from your car to grocery store or going from one meeting to another, it all counts. There are infinite ways to fit more gifts of walking into your day.
8. Use it as a 'replacement activity.'
Work too late or feel too tired to go to the gym in the evening? Allow me to introduce walking: the perfect "replacement activity," as Jane Brody of the New York Times put it, for disrupted exercise plans. You can do it by yourself, with a partner, friend, child or even your neighbor's dog.
9. Enjoy the seasons.
Skiing is a winter sport, swimming is fun in the summer, but walking is truly a year-round physical activity. I enjoy walking in spring, when the flowers are just peeking their heads out and trees are budding green. The riot of fall leaves on a walking path has called me away from my work more than once. And, if you've got some good winter boots, mittens and a hat, walking in the snow is an invigorating way to escape the grind for 20 minutes.
What's your why to walk? Collect your reasons and spread the word now to your friends, family, colleagues and clinicians. Together, we can make walking go viral!
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