Congratulations! We've made it to week three and are ready to add a brand new habit -- Exercise -- in the form of a 10-15 minute walk! For some, it's the dreaded "E" word; for others, it's something you're already doing and a short walk may seem too simple. But before you underestimate the power of a daily stroll, let's examine some of the reasons why it is so important to our well-being.
In addition to other exercise that you may already be doing, it is beneficial to develop the habit of taking a daily, mindful walk. What do we mean by 'mindful'? Mindful walking is more a practice (like yoga, meditation, or tai chi) as opposed to just getting in your cardio exercise. It involves being aware of our breathing, our thoughts, our steps, and of our bodies moving forward through space. We clear our minds of cluttered "to do" lists and put aside worries about unfinished tasks. With each step, we concentrate on breathing deeply, lengthening our torso and just being aware of the simple pleasure of walking. Mindful walking is also planned, essential, and a priority. This daily walk should be non-negotiable, just like brushing your teeth and bathing. Basically, I encourage you to develop the mindset that you will walk no matter what -- weather conditions*, minor aches and pains, fatigue, or moodiness are no longer excuses.
Why is a daily walk such an important habit? For starters, because it's good for you! People who walk have significantly less cardiovascular disease. In addition to better circulation, they have healthier bones and stronger muscles. They have improved posture and balance, better quality sleep, and tend to be less depressed and anxious. Regular walking can decrease joint inflammation and help with arthritis pain. It is also an integral part of most successful weight-management programs. New studies even show that daily walking can reduce the risk of certain cancers and Alzheimer's disease.
Human beings -- Homo sapiens -- are bipeds by design. We were "built" to walk, and to walk a lot! In our busy modern world, it is all too easy to hop in the car, sit in a chair, take the elevator, and shop over the internet. These are all missed opportunities for moving our bodies in the way in which they were designed. Our caveman ancestors remained fit and strong by covering vast distances each day, hunting and gathering, climbing, jumping, balancing, squatting and bending. They burned excess fat and calories by moving their bodies all day long.
We've all experienced the "I don't feel like exercising" phenomenon and we end up skipping our trip to the gym or our session on the elliptical. A daily walk, however, once it becomes non-negotiable, is something we do because it's just something we do everyday! The power of this daily mindful walk is more about mind-body-spirit connection than it is about power-walking. Our new habit calls for a more moderate pace in which you're breathing at a comfortable rate and able to converse easily. We are able to appreciate our surroundings, view nature, and enjoy the company of others or the solitude of our own thoughts. This is a steady, deliberate activity meant to be done in addition to other exercise you may already be doing to meet higher aerobic needs. While we are beginning at a very modest 10-15 minutes daily, our ultimate goal is to increase our walk to 30 minutes minimum, or even longer if you so desire and have the time. Ideally, this walk will occur outdoors. There is an unquantifiable benefit to breathing fresh air, experiencing sunshine or misty drizzle, listening to nature, and viewing gorgeous scenery. In short, it is just good for the soul!
If you are already taking daily walks and you prefer to move at a faster clip, no problem -- keep up the good work. Just be aware that walking is about so much more than just getting in your cardio. It can be a valuable time to decompress, de-stress, and simply relax. Consider slowing down for 10 minutes at the beginning or end of your usual walk and see if you begin to experience a new kind of calm and centeredness.
* What to do about inclement weather? Obviously, one must use common sense and take necessary safety precautions. If your steps and driveway are a sheet of ice or wind chill temperatures are dangerously low, that might be a good day to hop on the treadmill or do an indoor walking video such as Leslie Sansone's Walk At Home series. If ice is not an issue, walking outdoors on a snowy day can be invigorating and refreshing! Take your cue from skiers who dress appropriately for an entire day in the snow -- warm underlayers, ski pants and jacket, snow boots, and a ski mask or face gator can all make cold-weather walking a snap. Rain? No problem -- throw on a slicker and rain boots, grab an umbrella and head out the door. On excessively hot days, one can always walk early in the morning before the temperature soars or head to the cool indoors of the local air-conditioned mall. The bottom line is to stop making excuses for why we can't get our walk in, and start making it a priority. Make this your mantra: "Today, I WILL walk."