With so many wonderful new technologies and means of transportation, I feel the simple of value of walking is often overlooked. At the tap of a button and for just a few dollars we can summon a car from a stranger to come take us wherever we need to go! That’s not to mention buses, driving our own cars, trains, or even bikes. So much of our culture depends on getting where we need to be now, why bother walking anywhere?
First we can break down the scientific benefits of walking. Human beings evolved for thousands of years to be a hunting and gathering people. Evolution resulted in many of our physical structures developing to benefit our walking and running, because for much of our history human beings had to travel long distances to find food, shelter, and hospitable conditions. Our leg bones are elongated, our spines are curved, and our leg muscles are exceptionally strong compared to our closest animal relatives. We have great cardiovascular capacity, and strong hearts to pump oxygen and blood throughout our body. But the adaptations for walking and running are not only physical.
Studies show that dopamine, the chemical responsible for a lot of our “feel-good” emotions, is released in equal quantities when taking a walk compared to eating a chocolate bar or having a drink after a long day. The walk, however, doesn’t come with additional calories of chocolate or the after-effects of alcohol, while also increasing your metabolism and giving you a bit of exercise. Walking outside exposes you to sunlight as well, which increases our body’s production of Vitamin D – another chemical responsible for regulating your mood. In fact, many negative behaviors such as irritability, restlessness, and aggression, which we associate with the troubles of the modern lifestyle have all been shown to decrease with just one twenty-minute walk each day.
The benefits don’t stop there. Aerobic exercise such as walking, especially earlier in your day, increases your cognitive function and focus. Neuroplasticity, which is a word that describes our brain’s ability to make new connections and form new habits or ideas, benefits greatly from aerobic exercise. Walking can even stave off symptoms of dementia and prevent cognitive decline as we get older. Many of the biggest problems plaguing the modern population – depression, anger, inability to focus, and impulsive behaviors – can all be improved with just a simple walk each day.
There’s one more thing I personally love about walking. It gives me time to focus on the moment and my surroundings. So much of our days are spent with our head in the clouds, thinking about what we could be doing or should be doing. Maybe we are at home and our thoughts are at work, maybe we are at work but our thoughts are at home. How often are we ever truly present? When do we take the time to look at the real world that is just outside our doors? Take a look at the trees lining your street. See if you can spot any animals scurrying among the branches. Notice all the care your neighbors and community members have put into tending their lawn or garden. Maybe flowers are just beginning to bloom again, or a fresh snow has covered the ground while the plants are sleeping. These things are all around us every day, and we hardly take a moment to notice them. There is a lot of beauty to be found in little moments like these. So take a walk today, it’s literally what you were made for!