Earlier today, I went for a walk.
It wasn’t a very long walk.
I didn’t set any records or break any personal bests.
I can’t brag to others about how far I walked or how many calories I “burned”.
I didn’t finish out of breath and barely even broke a sweat.
All I did was go outside, listen to some music, and walk.
And it was amazing!
My whole life I thought walking was for dogs, babies, and old people. I overlooked walking as a form of exercise and thought that I was above it. Walking was for people who were too physically or mentally weak to run fast or lift heavy.
At least that’s what I thought.
Then, at the end of last year, I spent three months in Europe without a car. I was forced to walk everywhere, and walking became a way of life for me. At that point, I still didn’t consider walking a very effective form of exercise, but I started to notice how much I enjoyed the basic activity of just walking.
I noticed that no matter how short or long I walked, I almost always returned home feeling better than when I had left. Walking seemed to improve my mood and my thinking. It helped me come up with ideas for articles I wanted to write, and it helped me put problems or issues I was having into perspective. It seemed to improve my digestion and made me feel better after big meals. It gave me quality time with my girlfriend, and quality time with myself. I even felt like I could get away with an extra dessert or cheat meal without feeling the weight gain and sluggishness the next day.
I was amazed to feel all these positive benefits from something as simple as walking, something I had disregarded for most of my life.
But maybe all this walking business was just in my head. Could I really be experiencing all of these positive outcomes or was it just a placebo effect?
Well, it turns out that there might actually be some science behind this walking phenomenon. Study after study has shown the incredible benefits of walking. Here are just a few examples:
A small increase in walking was associated with meaningful overall health benefits.
Periodic walking improved glucose and insulin responses.
Walking may improve your memory.
Walking could help you live longer.
Walking can improve thinking and cognitive function.
Walking was shown to improve arthritis symptoms.
Walking improves well-being even more than high-intensity exercise.
Post-meal walking improves blood glucose after a carbohydrate rich meal.
These all sound like good things to me!
Based on my personal experience and the studies I found, it seems pretty clear to me that walking is a Superhuman activity. How many things in life are so easy (and free) to do, have so many positive benefits, and almost no negative side effects?
I think walking stands alone in this regard.
Which makes me wonder….if walking is so great, why did I spend most of my life avoiding it?
I think the biggest reason that I overlooked walking for so long is because common sense and conventional wisdom convinced me that the goal of exercise is to burn calories. If I could burn 100 calories from walking for 30 minutes, then I could double or triple that by jogging or lifting weights for that same amount of time. If some is good, then more must be better.
But as I have researched and experimented with different diets and exercise programs in my own life, it has become clear that there is more to this simplified model then just calories-in versus calories-out. Activities like walking, sleeping, and spending time outside don’t work because they burn more calories, they work because they improve the function and hormonal output of your entire body. Weight loss just happens to be a pretty nice side effect of a properly functioning body.
Sometimes the greatest benefits can be had from the simplest activities. Don’t make the same mistakes and assumptions that I did. Make walking an important part of your life and I guarantee you will feel better.