For many of us, walking has become something of an evolutionary relic. We live fast-paced lives; who has the time to saunter through life? This ancient activity can, however, make a real contribution to your physical and mental performance. Here are three fundamental reasons why you need to slow down and work walking into your daily routine.
The (de)evolution of physical activity
"Our bodies have evolved over millions of years to do one thing: move,” says James Levine, M.D., Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Levine explains that human beings evolved to stand upright in an environment that demanded near constant physical activity. However, over time, home sapiens conceived of ingenious ways to remould social space, shorten distance and streamline energy expenditure.
Humans have conquered their natural environment with technological advances in movement, communication and production. As a result, however, our physical activity at home, work and the spaces between has decreased to the detriment of our health.
Research shows that 31.1% of adults world-wide are estimated to be physically inactive. Moreover, more than 80% of adolescents are not meeting the physical activity recommendations of at least 30 minutes of exercise per day or 150 minutes of exercise per week. The physical ills that arise from a sedentary life include the shutting down of your metabolic rate; the decrease in the use of blood sugar; and the breakdown of posture and spine health. Sedentarism has moreover been linked to an exponential rise in, amongst others, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, autoimmune diseases and some cancers.
In reaction to the above, various industries – health, fitness, insurance and tech – have capitalised on the existential threat that arises from sedentarism. Gyms, wearable tech, health and fitness tracking, and even the incentivisation of exercise for insurance integrate in a new hyper-commodification of healthy living. Movement can improve health, stimulate productivity and offer you better premiums. But for the unconditioned or the unmotivated, where do you start? While the end may be clear as day, it is the means that could seem unattainable.
One solution to the problem may simply be to slow down the pace and go for a good old walk.
Why work walking into your workday?
It's not news that walking contributes to better physical health. Yet, in a world where exercise is becoming more intense, it may be important to know why walking as an exercise is such a good general facilitator of physical and mental wellbeing. Moreover, can it not also improve your performance?
Let’s look at three reasons to walk in your workday:
1. Boosts physical health
According to Australia’s Victoria State Government page Better Health, just 30 minutes of walking every day can increase cardiovascular fitness, strengthen bones, reduce excess body fat, and boost muscle power and endurance.
Walking is a weight-bearing exercise. However, as a low-impact activity it places less strain on the body than, for example, running. This makes walking safer and more accessible to less-conditioned, heavier and older individuals. As an aerobic exercise, walking invigorates and improves the health of the heart. The increase of blood flow helps to flush out toxins, boosts the immune system and can contribute to an improved mobility of the lower back muscles.
Finally, the real health benefits of walking include the following:
- Reduce weight and/or maintain an optimal weight
- Keep blood pressure under control
- Improve the levels of total cholesterol
- Decrease anxiety and depression
- Reduce the risk of heart disease and dementia
2. Boosts mental health
According to the World Health Organization, as of 2017, 300 million people around the world have depression. Depression, anxiety and stress are synonymous with our current post-industrial society. For us to cope, we need to engage in active strategies to manage our mental health. Walking, whether incidental or routine, can have real positive effects, according to research.
Research by Karmel Choi, fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, showed a 26% decrease in the odds for becoming depressed for each major increase in objectively measured physical activity. Objectively measured exercise could include, for example, 15 minutes of running or an hour of walking.
In another study by Saint Xavier University researchers Jeff Miller and Zlatan Krizan, it was found that a brief walk may have immediate psychological effects including feelings of being energized; an engaged state of mind; and an increase in interest, alertness, joy, excitement and enthusiasm. As noted by Miller:
If you are feeling disengaged or sluggish, and you desire to energize yourself, take a brisk walk around the block or through the cubicles. Your feelings of engagement will very likely increase, and all those things you might have wanted to be doing should seem less imposing.
3. Boosts creativity
Ideas are real currency in our fast-paced, problem-solving-focused society. In a work world of rules, deadlines, information overload and outputs, the ability to keep the mind fluid and to think out of the box equates to real power. Walking does not only contribute to physical and mental fitness, but can also boost creative output.
Great minds in history, from Friedrich Nietzsche to Steve Jobs, have sworn by the positive impact that walking has on creative problem solving. This notion has recently been substantiated by a Stanford University study where researchers found that walking boosts creative output by 60%, perhaps related to the simultaneous use of multiple parts of the brain required during walking upright.
The practice of walking offers one solace from the data-busy and desk-beholden corporate world. This meditative activity gives us the time and space to play with ideas without the focus being on implementation. Finally, walking, whether indoors or outdoors, boosts blood flow through the body, induces deeper breathing and therefore brings well needed oxygen to the brain.
Improve wellbeing one step at a time
In a world where fitness becomes more competitive and life more sedentary, it is important to maintain health and wellbeing in a holistic way. The positive impact that walking can have on your body, mind and performance is clear. So when that next wall hits while you are sitting at the desk, why not take 20 minutes to actively change your perspective.