At six-two, I’ve always loved Bruce Springsteen’s line, “Walk tall or don’t walk at all.”
But I didn’t really become a walker until about ten years ago, when my partner and I began spending lots of vacation time in Rehoboth, Delaware.
There, you can park your car once, then walk everywhere you need to go: restaurants, shops, and for miles along the beach. We enjoyed the scenery, the fresh air, the conversation, and the endorphin high you get when you walk for hours on end.
When we returned home to northern Virginia, we kept walking: to the video store, to the gym, to restaurants, to the movies, to the Metro, to parks.
Soon, any question, “Shall we go…” was followed by, “Sure – and let’s walk.”
We began to think of walking as a way of life – not only for exercise, but for transportation and socializing – a chance to catch up with each other, think things through together, simply enjoy each other’s company in a healthy environment.
Walking is good for our health. The 20-year Nurses’ Health Study of 72,000 female nurses showed that just half an hour brisk walking a day decreased heart disease risk 30% to 40%.
Other studies show that walking reduces the risk of stroke, high blood pressure, colon cancer, and diabetes. It reduces body fat and helps control body weight. It increases bone density, helping to prevent osteoporosis.
The Surgeon General, the American Heart Association, and the Centers for Disease Control all recommend “moderate to vigorous activity on most days.” People make it complicated, but it’s really not. Walking counts.
In older adults, walking also enhances cognitive ability. It improves flexibility, coordination, and balance — key to reducing the risk of falls. It helps control joint swelling and pain associated with arthritis.
Wait, there’s more! Psychologists at USC and Cal State Long Beach have found walking increases energy level, and the more the merrier: “The more you walk in a day, the more energy you experience.” It also improves mood, reducing anxiety and depression.
No wonder we like it so much!
Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation