Walking to Your Best Health

“People who cannot find time for recreation are obliged, sooner or later, to find time for illness.” – John Wanamaker

Just because we may have more years behind us than in front of us, doesn’t mean that the best version of ourselves is in the rearview mirror.

Quite to the contrary!

We now have experience, better judgement and wisdom on our side. Couple those virtues to our abundance of free time, and we can mold ourselves into most anything that we want to.

But, in order to get to the best version of ourselves, we need to be healthy and stave off illness. This means keeping ourselves in good physical and mental condition by eating nutritious food and engaging in regular exercise.

When most of us think of the word exercise, our minds go back to our formative years, perhaps doing calisthenics, aerobics classes, running around a track or plodding on a treadmill, ad nauseam. Whatever the memory, it probably isn’t motivating you to repeat it.

In this case, what we’re going to be doing is nothing as strenuous as pushups or aerobics classes. What we’re about to do is as simple as taking a walk. What a relief.

I’ll stop right here because, I know that many of you reading this will think, “I’ve let myself go too long and am too out of shape to start now”.

WRONG!

Now is the perfect time to regain control of your life’s direction. And you begin to do so by putting one foot in front of the other for as long as you can comfortably do so.

Walking and the enormous health benefits it stimulates within our bodies, is one of the best gifts that we can give ourselves – if we are physically able to do so.

Why is walking so good for us? The human body evolved to move. And, eons ago we actually did. Our bodies are so efficient at covering long distances that we became the most successful predator in history. Little did it matter that our prey was stronger or faster than us. Our ancestors could track them for days without tiring, until the animal succumbed to exhaustion.

Today, we spend way too much time on our rear ends looking at screens. Subduing our bodies into a sedentary lifestyle goes against our very nature. Because of this, nature is using its survival of the fittest law to eliminate those who behave unnaturally.

This sedentary lifestyle can prematurely age us up to eight years.

We believe that getting a modest amount of daily exercise can do more than just hold the hands of the clock from advancing at a normal pace. If done correctly, exercise can make us younger – not Benjamin Button younger – but certainly younger than our biological age.

One of the beautiful things about life is that we get the chance to start over each day. Starting over doesn’t require a public announcement. So, no one need know about our new goal of walking to health. Just take a deep breath, draw from the reserve of courage that resides inside all of us, and begin again.

Stop thinking like an old person!

We should be proud of our years of experience, how we got to where we are and of our age. However, a slight shift on our thinking could make a big difference in our lives.

Brian Nosek at the University of Virginia says, “the extent to which older adults feel much younger than they are, may determine important daily or life decisions for what they will do next.” In other words, if you feel younger, you’re also likely to continue to make decisions that will keep you feeling younger.

Science has shown that seniors who look younger than their age have a lower risk of death than their contemporaries who either looked their age, or older than.

“One of the big things I’ve learned is that there’s an advantage to regular low-intensity activity.” – Dan Buettner, National Geographic’s ‘Secrets of Long Life’

Subjects who took a daily walk of thirty minutes or more had a higher bone mineral content and lower blood triglyceride (the building blocks of fat) count than non-walkers. Additionally, walkers had a more positive attitude towards physical activity as well as a better appreciation of their own physical fitness. Walkers had a significantly higher lung volume than non-walkers.

How important is walking? Lately, walking speed is being considered as the ‘sixth vital sign’. Walking speed is an extraordinarily accurate predictor of:

future health status
functional decline
hospitalization probability
mortality

The faster one can walk, the better they are also likely to:
have increased balance
resist falls
rehabilitate from illness

Simply stated, seniors who have the physical ability to naturally, or develop walking at a quicker pace, are generally more healthy and could live a longer, more vital life.

“All the money in the world can’t buy you back good health.” – Reba McEntire

Weight bearing exercise, which includes walking and, or jogging, makes both your muscles and bones stronger.

Jogging may win the battle for calories burned. However a study of regular walkers showed them to be healthier than those who exercised by running. Risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease all dropped more significantly among walkers, when compared to runners.

Jogging also comes with increased risk of injury – especially for seniors. The possibly of injuring yourself while running as opposed to walking is over 50% for runners and only 1% for walkers. The benefits of running are not worth the risk of injury.

Walking increases our muscle mass – which we begin to lose as we age. This affects us is multiple ways; less muscle burns less energy, causing us to store more energy in the form of fat – so we gain weight. Less muscle also means a reduction in strength, and may also signal a cascade of other detrimental health issues. Less strength leads us down the path of frailty and shortens our lives.

When scientists looked at seniors who have remained very active, they did not find loss of muscle mass or strength. What they found were people who seemingly had not aged in that part of their bodies. As a byproduct of remaining active, these subjects also had younger looking mitochondria – the energy source located in all of the cells in our body.

The American Journal of Medicine’s study on muscle mass found that those seniors with the most healthy muscles, had lower mortality rates. Walking helps to build and maintain muscle mass, which has also been shown to help induce the death of tumor cells.

Muscle is the most abundant tissue, the largest store of protein in our bodies, and serves as a fundamental source for amino acid release to be used to produce energy, keeping our metabolism running on al eight cylinders. Losing muscle equates to the beginning of our decline.

The good news is that muscle loss can be prevented, and if one is already suffering from this loss, it can be reversed with exercise. This reversal seems to begin quite quickly after beginning to exercise. But have proper expectations – you’re not likely to get bulging get bulging muscles from walking. However, every time we step away from being sedentary and move our bodies for a moderate amount of time, we’re doing our muscles and wellbeing good.

Walking is effective at helping to reduce visceral fat – the type of dangerous fat that accumulates around the belly and hips. Excess visceral fat is linked to increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia and some forms of cancer.

Exercise has also been shown to decrease the risk for prostate cancer, and even helps patients currently being treated to stop the progression of the disease, and counteract the side effects of treatments.

In regards to breast cancer, physical exercise helps both physically and mentally, during and after treatments. Exercise also had the added bonus of easing fatigue in for women with breast cancer.

“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking” – Friedrich Nietzsche

If you’re the creative type,- or want to be – you might be surprised when some of your most profound ideas come to you while you walk. A Stanford University study showed that walking improved creative output up to 60%!

And the benefits do not stop when your sneakers come off – a residual mental boost is an added benefit to your walking habit. The study said “Walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.”

Some of the best moments of my life occurred as I was out walking. I walked up on two tiny bear cubs, so young that they could hardly cling to a tree’s bark, just two feet above the ground. While walking, I was able to find a way to deal with the grief of prematurely losing two family members to separate serious illnesses. I made the decision to move from Pennsylvania to San Diego to deepen my relationship with my future wife, while hiking. The best ideas for my creative writing also came to me while walking.

Because most other forms of exercise require a high level of concentration, our focus remains exclusively on performing safely and to the best of our abilities.

On the other hand, walking is perfect for introspective thought and is also ideal to get us into a meditative mind frame, which in itself is restorative. Walking is low impact on our joints, while at the same time being of high benefit for our health.

One can even craft a personal walking meditation to repeat soundlessly to oneself as they walk. A simple one that I like is:

“I feel my health and joy increasing with each step”, while seeing my body as an old fashioned mercury thermometer, with the red fluid rising incrementally with each footfall.

As silly as this may seem at first, after repeating this several times at the beginning of a walk, it becomes automatic and you can actually feel positive energy rising, along with more energetic stepping and arm swinging.

“Walking is the only way to stave off cognitive decline – it works.” – Dan Buettner, National Geographic’s ‘Secrets of Long Life’

A 2001 study of women over the age 65 determined that those who performed the most physical activity, walking and, or climbing stairs, showed the least cognitive decline. A 2004 study of men over age 71 showed that those who walked the least distance, had nearly twice the risk of developing dementia over those who walked just two miles or more per day.

Those who exercise have a lower occurrence of depression. Your body’s circulation becomes more efficient and exercise may even help ward off dementia related diseases.

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – Francis of Assisi

Getting started:
The biggest hurdle to getting started is taking those first few steps out of the door. Once you’ve done that, subsequent trips out the door to walk get easier and easier. Soon you’re looking forward to this part of your daily routine.

Do make sure that you have a good pair of walking shoes (insert affiliate link here) though. This walking is all about getting healthier. You don’t want to injure your feet, or throw your body out of alignment by wearing worn out or inappropriate footwear.

Having a wearable fitness tracker is also handy. These are worn like a wristwatch and even have that functionality. However, they also count your steps, measure your distance traveled, calories burned and pulse rate. Using a fitness tracker will help keep you on track, making sure that you’re slowly increasing your distance and speed, while also making your heart stronger and possibly lowering your pulse.

Finally, it is a good idea to carry a water bottle to hydrate yourself while exercising. A water bottle also doubles as a weight while walking, so that you can do some arm exercises if you wish. We like this water bottle, as it is almost indestructible, and also keeps hot beverages, as well as iced drinks, it the ideal temperature for hours.

“Sleep is that golden chain that ties health and our bodies together.” -Thomas Dekker

Many of us find it more difficult to get a restful nights sleep as we age. Walking provides a benefit here too! With regular walking, many seniors not only sleep longer, but also have a higher quality, deeper sleep.

Regular exercise, including walking, helps to suppress inflammation, which adversely affects the entire body and increases mortality rates.

Exercise helps our gut’s microbiome; Recent studies suggest that exercise can enhance the number of beneficial microbial species, enrich the microflora diversity, and improve the development of friendly bacteria. All these effects are beneficial for us. Our microbiome enhances our immune system, keeping us healthy.

Related article: Want to consume more natural probiotics? Try a daily does of milk kefir, a homemade cultured milk, which contains the most diverse number of healthy bacteria of any food item in the western diet. Consumption of milk kefir can reduce the chance of broken bones by up to 81%!

Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is typically caused by a lack physical activity and the lack of both vitamin D – the sunshine vitamin – and calcium. Walking outdoors not only gets you active with a weight bearing exercise, it will be of great help to you in increasing vitamin D in your body. Milk and milk products are still some of the best sources of dietary calcium. Milk kefir, due to its fermentation process increases the available calcium for your body to absorb. Walking and consuming milk kefir on a daily basis are both key to a long healthy life.

James O’Keefe, a former runner and cardiologist at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City, MO says, “If your goal is exercising for overall health and to improve your longevity, then walking is ideal.”

Making the choice to begin walking, with the resolute goal of getting stronger each week and actually doing it, is enormously gratifying. This will give you more energy and enthusiasm to continue.

When our bodies are engaged in the daily functions that we evolved into, we gravitate towards our natural state. Once reaching this natural state, we become more healthy. When we are healthy, we remain at our optimum weight and, most importantly, our bodies are disease free.

Once we begin to take charge of our health by increasing daily activity, many people also start make healthier choices in other areas of life as well. They begin to eat more nutritionally dense food, and save sugary items as treats instead of part of their daily regimen. Still others finally commit to kicking addictive behaviors.

“Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.” – Steven Wright

How far/long should I walk? The answer to this question will be different for each person, depending on their current health and fitness level. If you’re just beginning, your distance and time spent exercising is likely to be less than one who has been exercising regularly.

The important thing is to have a realistic goal. Without a goal, you’ll always fall short of what you can do. If you’re just beginning – and have your doctor’s blessing to exercise in this manner – walk at a comfortable pace until you feel the first signs of fatigue beginning setting in. How long and far did you walk? Perhaps this is your first distance goal. Once this distance becomes comfortable, stretch it out longer.

You may have read that a person should take 10,000 steps in a day in order to be healthy. There is debate as to how the number 10,000 came to be the one-size-fits-all goal. But, at least there is an attainable goal there.

This may be too high a step count for the beginner to even consider. In fact, some folks just starting out may only be able to walk to the end of the driveway and back. if this is you, kudos for starting!

The next goal could be making it as far as the neighbor’s driveway, then possibly down to the corner, then around the block, gradually increasing until you can walk for at least 30 minutes.

Find Your Motivation

You may want to be here longer for your spouse, or just be able to better keep up with your grandchildren. Perhaps your family’s health history is poor, and walking to glowing health is your way of telling illness “huh uh, not me. Go pick on a sedentary person.”

Think you’re too old to walk enough to enjoy the benefits from exercise?

Then consider Consider Emma Rowena Gatewood, better know as Grandma Gatewood.

Already a great-grandmother at 67 years young, she told her family that she was going to go for a walk. She stuffed her bunion covered feet into a pair of canvas Keds and began putting one foot in front of the other. No one heard another word from her until 800 miles later.

Her ‘walk’ was the Appalachian Trail – all 2,168 miles of, and she did it alone. She did it again at age 72, and yet again at age 75. She was the first woman to hike the entire trail alone in a single season, and the first person to hike it’s entirety twice, and then again at three times. Wanting different scenery, at age 71 she also walked 2,000 miles along the Oregon Trail, and many other trails throughout the nation.

“When life knocks you down, keep getting up.” – Malorie Blackman

Not only did evolution design us to walk, it designed us to spend the majority of our time upright. To be even more correct, it designed us to do both at the same time – something that we do less and less as we age.

Unfortunately, for most of us, we become more sedentary as we age, making it all the more critical that we get up and move more often. Getting up every thirty minutes to walk around our homes, helps to break up the length of time we spend sitting per session. People who sit less than thirty minutes at a time have a significantly lower risk of early death. Surely we can manage getting up twice an hour to walk around our homes, inside or out.

“Breaking up sitting time engages your muscles and bones, and gives all our bodily functions a boost – a bit like revving a car’s engine.”
– Professor David Dunstan, the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute

The key to making the most of our five minute sitting breaks is to move. We do not need to be doing jumping jacks or sit-ups. All we need to do is walk. If you are able to do it at a quicker pace than a saunter, all the better.

Need a reminder to get up and walk for a bit every thirty minutes? Set a repeating reminder on your smart phone to alert you. Walk to the kitchen and get a sip of water. Walk around inside your home while lifting a light pair of light dumbbells to exercise your arms. Walk to the mailbox, or down to the corner and back. It is quite easy to find ways to walk for five minutes, twice an hour. Your overall health will thank you for it!

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday, I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, and the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill. Thus if one just keeps on walking, everything will be all right.” – Soren Kierkegaard

Getting off of our rear ends every thirty minutes is a great start towards a healthier lifestyle – but this is only the warmup. To reap all of the substantial health benefits of walking, not only do we need to sit less, we also need to walk longer both in measured distance and time.

We understand that some may not feel that they have the energy or endurance to walk any distance that might be beneficial. Everything helps. The key is to simply begin.
You can also break your walking up into a couple sessions a day. Maybe one after each meal of the day, or whatever schedule works for you.

Others fear getting bored while walking. In this case it would be beneficial to listen to books while enjoying your daily stroll. Almost any book can be found and listed to on services like Audible for a modest monthly subscription. Listening to books can be a great way to learn something new, possibly even a new language, with the added benefit of giving you something to look forward to besides walking.

The longer you do it, the easier it will become, and the healthier you’ll be. Many folks find that a daily walking regimen has been a missing essential element in their lives, and wish that they had started doing it decades earlier.

Still, there will be days when you won’t feel like walking – this is normal and happens to most everyone. So, when this feeling hits you, there is no need to be a hero. You’re allowed to take a day off. However, when you make the decision to do so, also make a pact with yourself that tomorrow, you’re right back out on the road again. It is too easy to slip back into old, unhealthy habits. Tomorrow is another chance for you to begin again.

“Walking is man’s best medicine” – Hippocrates

Notice, we didn’t mention anything about prescription drugs? Exercise can be so powerfully restorative that it could keep you off of drugs if you’re not already on them, or, it could help you, over time, lessen the amount needed. All of this, of course, under the direction of your doctor.

Speaking of your doctor; do not use your doctor as an excuse to avoid exercise. But do get your doctor’s blessing before starting any moderately strenuous exercise. A simple phone call to the doctor’s office should confirm whether or not you can safely begin to take daily walks.

The bottom line is that if you want to not only live longer, but to also have more of a disease free, fulfilling life, you must get outdoors and move.

Check out San Diego’s Walkable 55 Plus Communities or Somewhat Walkable 55+ Communities in San Diego County

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