Breathing Space January 2023

by Dan Comer

Walk the Walk

For many of us, taking a walk is a wonderful way to de-stress, get some quiet time, and be alone with our thoughts (or without any thoughts!). And it is one of the most pleasant ways to exercise ever invented. 

I walk my dog two or three times a day around our neighborhood circle. On the low side, that is around 770 loops around the block in a year. Just as I was hoping to shake up that routine, the universe brought the book 52 Ways to Walk: The Surprising Science of Walking for Wellness and Joy, One Week at a Time by Annabel Streets to my attention. Let me share some of Streets’s walking ideas that appealed to me and that may inspire you. 

Tip 1: Walk When You Wake Up

If you take just one daily walk, do it first thing in the morning. Walking within an hour of waking can increase metabolic benefits and help the brain boot up. Our circadian clocks are most sensitive to light about one hour after waking, meaning a bright blast of light helps activate our brains and set our circadian rhythms for the day. Some science suggests that a brisk walk before breakfast—while our bodies are still in fasting mode—burns more fat, improves how our bodies respond to insulin, and cuts our risks of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The process is simple: Get up, drink a glass of water, and get going.

Tip 2: Walk to Get Lost

Straying from your usual route, guided only by your internal sense of direction, will quite literally expand your mind. When we’re lost, we’re exposed to new landscapes and landmarks, forcing our brains to sit up and take note of our surroundings. Confronted with something new and different, our brains can begin to build new neural pathways, improving our memory and capacity for learning.

Tip 3: Walk in Silence

Exposure to noise has been linked to sleep disturbance, heart disease, diabetes, hearing loss, and stress. When we have nothing to listen to and no sounds to disturb us, our bodies can rest and our brains can get to work building new neurons. Seek out quiet spaces to walk, unplug from your phone, resist the urge to chat with your walking companion or tune in to a podcast, and observe how silence changes not only the sound of things but the look of your surroundings.

Tip 4: Walk in the Cold (I know, but bear with me…)

Welcome the colder months as an exhilarating time to move outdoors. Studies show that cold becomes less intimidating and discomforting the more we expose ourselves to it. Research also suggests that we think more clearly in cold weather than in hot weather. The key to loving chilly treks? Layers, and lots of them. 

Tip  5: Walk After Eating

Research shows that gentle exercise after a meal has benefits, including lowering blood glucose levels. The good news (for those averse to long walks) is that a ten-minute stroll is all it can take.

Try one of these, and I will see you out there!