Welcome. I am the author of Universal Time, a sci-fi urban comedy;
Beaufort 1849, an historical novel set in antebellum South Carolina;
and Pearl City Control Theory, a comedy of manners set in present-day San Francisco.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Brilliance of Walking

"Walking in the Hills" Edward Potthast
Walking. So simple. So powerful. So cheap. If you could put the benefits of walking 30 minutes a day into a pill, you'd drive 80% of all medications off the market and make untold billions. That's how great walking is. And you can get this wonder drug for free. Here are fifteen reasons to get out and walk:

1) Weight loss. People who start walking 30 minutes a day at an easy pace of 3 mph lose an average of a pound a month. Running, walking faster, or walking longer will help you lose weight more quickly, but in any event, the pounds you lose by walking even 30 minutes each day are pounds that you'll keep off. Even if you're genetically predisposed to obesity, walking works. Currently one third of US adults are obese; another third are overweight. You don't have to be thin to be healthy, but there is no way to be sedentary and healthy.

"Painter on His Way to Work" Vincent van Gogh
2) Cancer Prevention. One third of cancer-related deaths are due to obesity and a sedentary lifestyle. Walking 30 minutes a day cuts risk of uterine and breast cancer in half for women. It cuts risk of colon cancer for both sexes by 60%. Even more extraordinary, walking can stop prostate cancer in its tracks. Men diagnosed with prostate cancer who start walking briskly 30 minutes a day are 57% less likely to see the disease progress. This is amazing. And for women with breast cancer with hormone-responsive tumors, those who walked an average of 30 minutes a day reduced risk of dying from their cancer by 50%.

3) Prevents heart disease. Reduces risk by 40%. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US for both men and women.

4) Reduces incidence of high blood pressure by 40%.

5) Lowers the risk of stroke by 37%.

"Tobias and the Angel" Piero del Pollaiolo
6) Boosts the immune system to fight off colds and flus. And if you do get sick, being fit reduces the number of days you are sick, the number of symptoms you experience, and the overall severity of the illness by 30%. Being fit via moderate exercise is proven to reduce the number of sick days you'll take better than any pill or nutritional supplement.

7) Cuts likelihood of getting type 2 diabetes in half.

8) Good for the heart and circulatory system. Keeps arteries and veins unclogged and functional.

9) Reduces bad cholesterol, regulates blood sugar levels, and aids digestion. (Especially good if done 15 minutes after a meal.)

10) Prevents depression. Reduces depression as well or better than, Zoloft, Prozac or behavioral therapy. This is true no matter your age. Currently in the US, of my age cohort--women between 50 and 65--a full one fourth are taking antidepressants. This is nuts. Walking also alleviates stress and anxiety and helps you fall asleep at night and stay asleep.

11) Combats arthritis and strengthens joints. Eases lower back pain as effectively as a muscle-strengthening program at a clinic. Reduces need for pain medication.

12) Strengthens your bones. Reduces risk of osteoporosis.

13) Helps pregnant women with a host of common pregnancy problems including back pain, constipation, swelling and trouble sleeping. Walking during pregnancy (and during first part of labor) is also proven to result in shorter labors, reduces the risk of gestational diabetes and miscarriage, and makes it easier to get back to your normal weight after the baby is born.

"Couple Walking with Crescent Moon" Vincent Van Gogh
14) Keeps your brain functioning in old age. Reduces risk of Alzheimer's by 50%. Reduces brain atrophy, dementia and cognitive decline. Reduces likelihood of brain shrinkage.

15) Improves health and well-being later in life. Being fit in your fifties compresses the likelihood of experiencing chronic, debilitating illness into the last five years of life rather than the last 10, 15 or even 20 years of life that occurs for sedentary people. 

Of course walking is not the only form of moderate physical exercise that's good for you. Bicycling, swimming, ballroom dancing, yoga, and tai chi are also options, and no doubt there are dozens of others as well. Whatever exercise you choose, you don't have to get out of breath and sweaty to benefit. But you do need to do something that gets you moving and your blood circulating for thirty minutes almost every day. It doesn't have to be all at one time, but just puttering around your house or the office doesn't count.

Why is walking or other moderate exercise so crucial for human health? Part of the answer lies in our lymphatic system. This is the system our bodies rely on to carry nutrients to our cells and cart off all the routine wastes of cellular function, wastes that become toxic if allowed to build up. The lymphatic system also produces and transports white blood cells and disease-fighting antibodies. But this system doesn't have its own pump like the blood system does. It relies on muscular movement to pump lymph fluid around the body. A sluggish lymph system inevitably means a sluggish immune response to disease or infection and can contribute to many other health problems, from swelling to headaches to sinus issues. Without your body's movement the lymph can't circulate and can't do its job protecting your health.

The very best way to get moderate exercise regularly is to work it into your daily routine. Can you walk to work? Can you park a mile away from work and walk the last bit? Can you walk at lunchtime? Is there a store or business you frequent regularly that is walking distance from home? Is there a pleasant place in your neighborhood you can take a walk after dinner?

I hope I've convinced you walking is better than any drug you could take. More tips on getting started:
1.) Baby steps. Set small goals at first--even 5 minutes of walking a day is good! Increase by 2 minutes each day. By the end of two weeks you'll be up to 30.
2.) Get a walking buddy, someone you can meet to get you out and walking.
3.) Get a pair of shoes comfortable for walking so that lack of footwear does not get in your way. (Even a $30 pair of athletic shoes will do.)
4.) Listen to music, though only have an earbud in one ear if walking near car traffic.
5.) Give yourself a non-food reward for walking every day for a week, for two weeks, for a month. Post your progress on Facebook, or even make a chart with stars on your refrigerator. 
6.) If you can, get your exercise in nature. This has proven spirit-lifting benefits even beyond walking.

In my first novel, Pearl City Control Theory, I wrote about city Buddha-mind walking and its emotional and philosophical benefits with little idea of walking's health impact. But I wrote Pearl City way back in 1992, and it was published in 1999, well before the abundance of studies and scientific analyses about walking that appeared this past decade. The reasons to walk are even more pressing now than they were in 1992.

Starting a habit of walking is initially going to take energy and willpower. Be dogged, be determined. After a month, you'll have noticeably more energy, endurance and stamina. You will be stronger. You will see things you've never noticed before. You will get sick less often, your spirits will lift, and you will just feel a heck of a lot better. Happy Rambles!