Several years ago I began a routine of walking everyday during lunch. I stepped away from my computer screen, left my cell phone on my desk, and wondered the surrounding blocks for 15-20 minutes. Over time, my once-a-day walk evolved into several spaced throughout the day. Sometimes I’ll take a familiar path, or walk to the grocery store if I need something. Other times my route is completely random, spontaneously deciding at each intersection to turn left, right, or stay straight.
Since moving from Washington DC to Minnesota, my surroundings during my walks are now quite different, but it’s still a daily practice, even when it’s zero degree outside. The practice has also become even more important because I work from home. It’s a way to get out of the house and recharge.
Here are a few more reasons why I walk multiple times a day, and why you might want to consider doing it too.
1. To get out of a seated position. Long periods of sitting are associated with increased mortality. This effect is independent of other exercise you do throughout the day.
2. To expose my skin to the sun. Our bodies naturally produce vitamin D through a chemical reaction with direct sun exposure on the skin. In this way, Vitamin D acts more like a hormone than a traditional vitamin because the body can naturally produce it. It plays a critical role in promoting bone health by promoting calcium absorption in the intestine and its role in bone remodeling. Aside from bone health, research has shown vitamin D to play a role in the functioning of the immune system, muscle, cardiovascular system, and respiratory system. It’s also critical in healthy brain development, and has anti-cancer effects.
3. To enjoy nature and appreciate my environment. With our always-on-the-go culture, we often fail to appreciate, or even notice, the small, subtle beauties in life. The picture above is from a walk I took through a nearby park this fall, just as the leaves were changing colors.
4. To think. Movement, whether walking or aerobic exercise, increases heart rate, stimulates circulation, and enhances oxygen delivery to different parts of the body. This includes the brain. Walking helps create new brain cell connections through increased expression of a protein called brain-derived neutrophic factor, of BDNF for short. It’s BDNF that supports existing nervous system cells, as well as encourages growth of new ones. BDNF’s stimulation from exercise is one reason exercise helps keep our brains sharper as we age. It’s also the reason why I go for a walk when I need to think about a new idea or try and solve a problem.
5. To give my eyes a break from staring at a screen. Staring at a screen for long periods of time puts significant strain on your eyes. I sometimes even develop slight headaches if I look at a bright screen for too long. Also, bombarding your eyes with huge amounts of blue light emitted from screens, particularly in the late afternoon and evening, is a sure way to disrupt sleep.
6. To recharge and be more productive. The most productive people don’t spend eight straight hours in front of their computer working continuously. They work intensely for short segments and then take a break to recharge. Some research suggests an optimal split of 52 minutes working followed by a 17 minute break. There are other protocols out there that call for even shorter segments, something like 25 minutes on and 5 minutes off. Whatever the method, the basic take away is to habitually take breaks every hour or so.
Why do I walk everyday? To restore balance. To make sure I’m caring for my physical, mental and spiritual health. To allow me to perform at my best, everyday.
So, get up, step away from your computer, walk outside, and see what you can find.