Just 15 minutes of walking… can have a powerful effect on your health

It keeps your buttocks engaged with the world.
A wise man once said that excessive sitting causes glute inactivation and atrophy. This is true, but it’s not like simply standing is enough to keep them strong and engaged. You have to walk, and walk often. To make sure the way you walk is actually activating your glutes, place your hands on each glute. You should feel your glute tense up a bit with each footfall as it accepts the load, and that same glute should tense up even more when you push off to take another step so that your hand gets a little “pushback.” It modestly reduces body fat.

It improves glycemic control, especially after meals.
Just 15 minutes of walking after eating improved the blood glucose control in older people with poor glucose tolerance. Try to keep the walk as close to the meal as possible to aid in weight loss.
It improves triglyceride levels and lowers blood pressure, especially after meals.
Whether short (ten 3-minute bouts of brisk walking) or longer (one 30-minute bout of brisk walking), briskly walking after a meal lowers postprandial blood pressure and triglyceride levels.

It might help you live longer if you do it briskly (or at least presages a longer life, if not causes it).
A recent study of over 7000 male and 31000 female recreational walkers found that walking intensity predicted mortality risk. Those who walked the fastest tended to die the least. It’s important to note that this wasn’t an interventional study where walkers were coached to walk faster; this was just looking at the relationship between natural walking speed and mortality risk, so naturally slow walkers who resolve to increase their speed may not see the same relationship – but it certainly can’t hurt!

It’s well tolerated by people with arthritis (and could even improve their condition).
Arthritis patients have it tough on the exercise front. They won’t get any better avoiding exercise, but exercise tends to hurt. What to do? Walk. Walking is gentle, particularly if you perform it with proper form. And one study even found that walking (and weight lifting) improves balance in older adults with osteoarthritis.

It’s good for your brain.
Walking does much more than work the area underneath your neck. It also has extensive cognitive benefits, improving memory in seniors, cognitive control and academic performance in preadolescents (especially those who need it most), and (when done outdoors) boosting creativity in the young and healthy. The farther an older person can walk in six minutes, the better he or she performs on memory and logic tests; folks who perform poorly on the walking test tend to have reduced grey matter volume in certain sections of their brains. Aristotle’s famed tendency to walk as he taught students suddenly makes sense.

It reduces stress.
What do I do when I need to get away from a particularly stressful day in “civilization”? Go for a walk, preferably in a natural setting. For me, it’s the beach or the Malibu hills. For others, it might be the woods or even a park. Sure enough, going for a walk in the woods is a surefire way to lower cortisol.

It reduces stress even when it doesn’t.
A recent study examined the effect of forest walking on stress in young adults, finding that although chromogranin A (a biomarker of stress) increased, the subjects reported reductions in subjective perceptions of stress (which, remember, may matter more than “objective” markers).

It boosts immune function.
Several lines of evidence point to the benefits of walking on the immune system. First, a “mere” 30 minute walk increases killer T-cells and other markers of immune function. Second, among free-living Japanese elderly, higher daily step counts correlate with improved mucosal immunity. Finally, among postmenopausal women involved in a walking training program, the normally deleterious immune effects associated with menopause were ameliorated.

It prevents falls in the elderly.
Walking on uneven, natural ground like hiking trails, improves balance and reduces falls in the elderly. “Walking programs,” which usually have elderly patients walking indoors or on treadmills as briskly as they can handle do not appear to work very well. Slow, unsteady, and meandering walks appear to be better. Don’t wait until you’re already at risk of falling, though. The earlier you start habitually walking, the better your ability to navigate the land without falling will be.

It gives you a chance to think.
When we walk, we think. And because walking is a low-difficulty endeavor, we can direct our executive functioning to more internal matters. We work through problems, come up with ideas, replay conversations, scheme, ruminate, and discover solutions. Or maybe we just think about that funny dog we saw on the way to work the other day. That’s a worthy subject, too.

It can be a kind of meditation.
Meditation is a foreign concept for many Westerners; we know about it, but we don’t know it. Even when we want to try it, having read about the benefits, we can’t quite muster the will to sit still for twenty, thirty minutes at a time. Enter the walking meditation. Do it formally, or just go for a walk and let your mind tune out from all the chatter. You’ll feel better either way.

It improves meetings.
Regular old seated meetings can be tedious, yawn-inducing beasts, even when the people and subject matter involved are interesting. Walking meetings, which are exactly what it sounds like, are growing more commonplace in the business world, and I couldn’t be happier. Seth Roberts found that replacing his seated student/teacher meetings with walking meetings was refreshing and invigorating.

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