Peter Schieffelin Nyberg on Why Walking is an Underrated Form of Exercise
Five Reasons Why the Oldest Form of Transportation is Overlooked as a Fantastic Way to Keep Healthy
Walking is not a glamorous hobby, but its positive effects on human physiology are well-known. It helps to build muscle mass and bone density. It increases flexibility and blood circulation. It helps ward off weight gain and chronic conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. What is often overlooked, however, are the other wonderful benefits that a habit of walking regularly can bestow on an individual, touching on everything from retaining important vitamins to alleviating anxiety. Truly, walking carries with it universally positive effects. Outside of possibly subjecting oneself to inclement weather, there is quite literally no downside to it. Peter Nyberg provides five reasons why the oldest form of transportation is an underrated form of exercise.
It Boosts Mental Health
To begin with, there is a strong correlation between walking and good mental health. Walking causes the brain to release endorphins, a mood-improving hormone which lowers stress levels and reinforces emotional satisfaction. As such, a daily stroll of about half an hour can work to alleviate anxiety and fight off sadness and depression. Peripherally, there is a social aspect to walking that is also beneficial. Whether joining an organized walking group or simply chancing by friends and acquaintances during the course of a neighborhood stroll, walking provides a means of engaging others in meaningful contact, which in turn produces positive mental effects.
It Stimulates Creativity
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence floating around that suggests a link between walking and enhanced creativity. In the past, tech magnates and noted innovators Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have both extolled the virtues of going for a brisk hoof in order to get their creative juices flowing. Recently, though, a report by Stanford University researchers published by the American Psychological Association has gone a long way to scientifically solidifying this connection.
It Aids in Digestion
By scheduling a daily walk after a large meal, digestion can be greatly aided. Research has shown that taking an after dinner mosey significantly speeds up gastric emptying and helps to work food through the stomach. A timely walk can even be an antidote for post-meal sleepiness.
It Assists in Sleep Hygiene
“For decades, sleep experts have advocated long walks and fresh air as an easy, drug-free therapy to combat insomnia and other sleep-related disorders” states Nyberg. Exercise like walking serves to boost the body’s supply of melatonin, which is a sleep-inducing hormone. There is a caveat, though: taking a walk too close to bedtime can be counterproductive, as the increased blood circulation associated with walking can increase energy levels and make a person more alert rather than sleepy.
It Bolsters the Immune System
The number of studies that prove that a consistent practice of walking serves to improve blood flow, reduce stress, and induce a sense of overall calm are innumerable. A secondary and cumulative outcome of all these effects is a measurable bolstering of the immune system. Additionally, walking outdoors (rather than on a treadmill, say, or inside a mall) increases an individual’s intake and retention of vitamin D, a crucial component in the human immune system that comes from exposure to sunlight. According to Harvard Medical School, a study of one thousand men and women concluded that participants who walked for twenty minutes a day at least five days a week took forty-three percent fewer sick days than those who reported exercising only minimally—and if they did become sick, it was less severe and for a shorter duration of time.
With regard to physical activity, there is nothing better for the human body than walking—not swimming, not cycling, not calisthenics, not yoga. With regard to simple, everyday actions, the only thing that might give walking a run for its money as a boon for personal health is drinking water. It is that good for you. Keeping all that in mind, combined with the facts that walking is incredibly easy to do and extremely cost-effective, it is difficult to imagine a reason not to give it a try. So, why not start a regular regimen of daily walks today?