We hear a lot about how fat American’s have become. We are an obese nation, sitting on our butts and gorging on fast food and deep fry. Big Macs and Pizza and beer and seventy inch big screen TV’s have rendered us inactive blobs of flesh sitting and waiting for heart attacks and strokes.
For a while we played with the fitness craze, buying lifetime memberships at trendy gyms re-branded as health clubs, but no matter how many fancy weight machines or incarnations of the exercise bike that they placed beside hot tubs and saunas, they could hold our interest for only so long. The workouts still required work and the health foods that they promoted still tasted like cardboard and sawdust. As soon as the “lifetime memberships” fled with the fitness club’s name changes we flew back to our couches and our reruns, seldom to return.
As a result, we set aside those fanciful dreams of six-pack abs and Hulk Hogan biceps, the hour-glass figures and rock hard butts and tuned in to a growing slate of (un)reality shows that let us know that we were not more flawed than our neighbors and in fact may hold the higher moral ground. For the next twenty years we remained glued to our cable enabled TVs and thus to our ever more plush couches. Potatoes we became.
Now we find ourselves, decades later, silvered and rounded. Not well, just rounded. Well rounded would be us had we stayed in the gym. Here we sit still, heart attacks and strokes in waiting disguised as baby boomers, finding now that we must continue to drag our decrepit bodies to diminishing jobs for diminishing pay for longer than expected in an attempt to replace our diminished retirement funds and savings we had counted on for our final years of corpulent comfort.
I don’t mean to be a complete purveyor of doom and gloom for our generation, however. I bring with this bleak picture a caveat; a message of renewal, of reversal and regeneration.
We can walk our way out of this predicament.
Health concerns at the age of 49 facilitated a heightened interest in creating a healthier lifestyle for me and my loved ones, including dietary changes and research into the value of exercise. I had fallen into a routine devoid of any organized workouts and so the changes needed were dependent upon finding a way to make my path to better health one that would allow me to ease my way back to fitness. Jumping into a rigorous regimen of exercises, I knew from past attempts, would doom my efforts to failure. I needed a way to saunter back into health, relatively painless, with a strong upside, but not daunting enough to deter a chronic couch potato like myself.
Walking was the ideal start.
Most of us can walk. In fact, after years of experience we can all claim a certain amount of expertise in this common but amazingly beneficial activity. This makes it an excellent place to begin a path to fitness and health. Barring major disability, walking for health will merely mean increasing an activity that everyone participates in on a daily basis. The benefits are not only surprising to most, but are in fact astounding.
Following is a list of the most universal gains that an increase in your steps per week will provide. In coming posts I will explore the various studies and personal experience that lend credence to these claims.
I make no exaggeration when I say that walking is the ultimate “get rich quick scheme” for improved health that you will find that is not a scam.
Immediate benefits include:
- Reduced blood pressure
- Reduced Cholesterol
- Reduced stress levels
- Reduced risk of stroke
- reduced risk of cancer and return of certain cancers
- Prevention and control of type 2 diabetes
- Strengthening of the heart
- Memory improvement/better cognitive function
- Lower risk of dementia
- Alleviates depression (as much as 47%)
- Weight loss/maintenance
- Improved fitness/build muscle strength
- Better endurance
- Increases circulation, boosting oxygen delivery throughout the body which slows the aging process
- Disability prevention in the elderly
- Increase of motivation and self-satisfaction
- Helps you sleep better which studies show help you to live longer
- Increases ability to relax
- Reduces reliance on medications
- Improved sexual satisfaction
- Increased vitamin D production when walking in sunshine, which lowers cancer rates, risk of death, and risk of osteoporosis in people over 50.
The list of benefits goes on and on, and all of this from an activity that we have been doing for nearly all our lives. You gain all of these benefits by simply increasing your speed and the number of steps that you take. I can personally attest to the effectiveness of including a brisk walk in your routine. Many of the benefits on this list have been measurably effective in my quest to delay and even reverse some of the ravages of father time.
For your own sake, for your satisfaction of life, for the sake of those who love you, give it a try. Find a nice route and start walking. Push your pace and increase your steps. Let’s show those that are calling our generation the black hole of healthcare that we can walk with pride into a bright and healthy future.
Here are some good resources for more information on how and where to go walking.