Lady running in a park in London
Photo by Arek Adeoye / Unsplash

Why walking really is probably the single best thing you can do for your health

Three hours ago, I finally did it. After months of battling a variety of injuries, including fracturing a pinky toe which keep me in a boot and off the trails for nearly three months, I hit the trail head at Spencer Butte, just a few miles south of town here in Eugene.

It was Sunday, the parking lot jammed. Most folks (but not all ) wore the required masks and most who did also were very polite on the trail. For my part, I dug my poles into the damp dirt and pushed myself hard. I was so damned grateful to be in sneakers, on both feet. I still can't wear hiking boots, but look, you take what you get.  

Those deteriorating sneakers are for shit on slippery,  uneven rocks, but I was so glad to be ambulating, I didn't care. I just took a touch more care heading down.

Walking works. It's the single best, easiest thing, you and I can do for our health. Blessedly easy, given that you have places to walk and that you can indeed put one foot in front of the other, barring too many trips to the neighborhood liquor store, which of course is essential to our health. But I digress.

While I prefer to run, I'll take walking. Because that simple act can do more for us than we realize. To that:

Walking Might Be the Best Exercise There Is
Here’s the secret to a long life: keep moving.

From the article:

It’s easy to get excited about the latest and greatest trends, from high-intensity interval training to ultramarathons to triathlons to powerlifting. But at the end of the day, regular brisk walking gets you most, if not all of the way there—“there” meaning a long and healthy life. This is the main conclusion from the June volume of the prestigious British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM), a special edition dedicated exclusively to walking.

...The main study in the BJSM special edition surveyed more than 50,000 walkers in the United Kingdom—a variety of ages, both men and women—and found that regularly walking at an average, brisk, or fast pace was associated with a 20 percent reduction in all-cause mortality and a 24 percent reduction in the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

Yeah. Walking. No Pelotons, no special machines, just the machine we came equipped with: legs.  Which, when moved vigorously, push the cardiovascular system (VO2), which pushes oxygen and nutrients to the body, etc. etc.

While just getting out for a stroll, a good brisk one, doesn't exactly get you bragging rights (Lookit me I ran  a bajillion miles today!!!!), it is far more likely to serve you better, longer and well into your very late life. Something to be said for that. Lot to be said for that.

Photo by Eric Muhr / Unsplash

The other great joy of being up here in the Pacific NorthWest (PNW)  is that with rare exception, if you ask, most folks are delighted for you to butt-rub their fur balls. You can chat, talk dogs, hiking and the weather. I get my exercise, my need for social stimulation and my fur fix all at the same time. Christ, I've missed it. But nowhere near as much as I've missed my exercise, being outside in the forests- what the fires didn't level, anyway- and being surrounded by green, cool mist,  and the occasional smiling hiker. Masked smiling hiker, thank you.

Back in July, before I landed in the hospital with kidney stones, before I flipped my car in Idaho and fractured my finger and carved new canoes in my punkin head. Before I fractured my toe, I was training myself to run on high, rocky trails in my soon-to-be old home. All I could see in the future, even under Covid, was lots more of same. I couldn't wait to get to Oregon and run the trails. For me it had been a huge win to have mastered running on rocky trails, which have forever scared the holy crap out of me. But I did it. So, coming to Oregon meant that I could take my new-found skill to a whole other level.

Yah. Sure you can, Sparky.

Guess who laughs when you make plans?

Photo by Marcela Rogante / Unsplash

Not to be. The injuries made setting up my gym in the basement a pipe dream until this past weekend. Between construction projects and the limited availability of crews, it's taken five months, not five weeks.

Like so many I had to forfeit my gym membership due to the shutdown. My equipment's been gathering dust in the garage, waiting for me to finally move things around and put them into curios, onto shelves, into closets. Injuries meant that I couldn't even walk my local hills. No yoga, no kick boxing, no nothing. Not just because the TV wasn't set up, but because a busted pinky means you can't do anything with that foot.

Then, if you're like me, you smack that busted toe against every single available surface.

One  hand down, one foot down, and on top of that I had my ovaries removed two weeks ago. Gah. I feel like the Black Knight in Monty Python's Holy Grail.

Again, from the article:

Walking has also been compared to more intense forms of exercise, like running. Though experts believe running may be marginally better for you, that’s only if you don’t get injured and manage to run regularly, something that more than 50 percent of runners (myself included) struggle with.

I'm a lifetime runner, with the occasional break, usually because I broke something. However, when you or I twist a toe or crank an ankle badly enough so that we have to sit even more than usual,  breaking out for a two-mile hike is like busting out of Alcatraz.

Deposit photos

The older I get, the more I need to move to maintain the shape I'm in, build on it and continue to do what I love. However, for me, for you, for any of us who is able, simply putting one foot in front of the other, starting with laps around the living room, the driveway, the block, doesn't matter, walking works. Bottom line, the simplest, easiest thing you and I can do is often one of the best.

Why? Because if you insist on complex routines, pricey exercise machinery, programs that require a classroom or special clothing, it's far easier to just not do it today. And tomorrow, and the next day. The easiest thing in the world is just get outside and walk.

Deposit photos

Again, assuming you're ambulatory and you have a space where you can do it safely.

For me, it's a chance to meet new people at at time when we're in another lock down. It's a chance to pet puppers who could use socialization at a time when I can't buy one of my own. It's also a chance to reboot the badly-needed aerobic  program which has been on hold half this year, because of too many injuries.

I can hang with simple. Simple is superb, especially when it pays off so well.

Want to get healthy? Start walking. You never know where it might take you.

Photo by Sébastien Goldberg / Unsplash