How Healthy Eating, Walking and Yoga Can Provide Lifelong Balance
Continued from Part 1, Healthy Eating
Just as healthy eating provides fuel for the body, daily physical activity, such as walking, provides fuel for the brain. A brisk walk can increase blood circulation to the brain, enhancing mental clarity. According to the American Heart Association, research has shown that the benefits of walking and moderate physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day can help you:
- Reduce the risk of coronary heart disease
- Improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels
- Improve blood lipid profile
- Maintain body weight and lower the risk of obesity
- Enhance mental well being
- Reduce the risk of osteoporosis
- Reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer
- Reduce the risk of non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes 1
For me personally, walking has the power to immediately boost my mood and get me away from my job working at a computer screen. When I return from a walk, I feel I have more creativity and less fatigue. I walk for different reasons: for fitness, to converse with friends, to listen to music or an audio book, or simply to clear my head by experiencing nature. Perhaps the latter reason is why Henry David Thoreau’s question in his 1862 essay “Walking” strikes me as profound:
“What is it that makes it so hard sometimes to determine whether we will walk? I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.”
-Henry David Thoreau
I’ve heard the Latin phrase Solvitur ambulando, “it is solved by walking” many times among the Camino circles and I couldn’t agree more. It’s even printed on the back of our NorCal APOC Chapter T-Shirt. Living proof of this phrase is Phil Volker, who was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. Volker dreamed of walking the Camino de Santiago, so he did the next best thing. He laid out a trail in his backyard in Vashon Island, WA and calculated that he would need to make 909 laps to walk the equivalent of the roughly 800 kilometers of the Camino Frances. Walking daily on his backyard Camino contributed to him being healthy enough between chemo treatments to walk the Camino in Spain. His story is beautifully documented in Annie O’Neil’s film Phil’s Camino.
I recently read an article with more proof of the benefits of walking. See Doctors Explain How Hiking Actually Changes Our Brains excerpt below.
While it may seem obvious that a good hike through a forest or up a mountain can cleanse your mind, body, and soul, science is now discovering that hiking can actually change your brain… for the better!
Hiking In Nature Can Stop Negative, Obsessive Thoughts
Aside from the almost instant feeling of calm and contentment that accompanies time outdoors, hiking in nature can reduce rumination. Many of us often find ourselves consumed by negative thoughts, which takes us out of the enjoyment of the moment at best and leads us down a path to depression and anxiety at worst. But a recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that spending time in nature decreases these obsessive, negative thoughts by a significant margin.
Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that aerobic exercise increases hippocampal volume — the part of the brain associated with spatial and episodic memory — in women over the age of 70. Such exercise not only improves memory loss, but helps prevent it as well. Researchers also found that it can also reduce stress and anxiety, boost self esteem, and release endorphins. Many people take medication to solve each and every one of these issues, but the solution to these ills may be a lot simpler than you think!
I’ll seize any opportunity to plan a group hike, walk the dogs, or use my lunch break to experience the meditative qualities of walking in nature. I admit, I am addicted to walking, so it’s a good thing I’ll be walking a Camino in May!
Continued: Mindfulness Manifesto, Part 3: Yoga
Disclaimer: This three-part series that I wrote for a research paper in last year. I make no claims of being a health care expert. I am sharing these practices in mindfulness because I found they work best for me.
Always consult your physician before beginning any exercise program. This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Consult with your healthcare professional to design an appropriate exercise prescription. If you experience any pain or difficulty with these exercises, stop and consult your healthcare provider.
- American Heart Association’s Start Walking Now website: “The Benefits of Walking”
- Henry David Thoreau: “Walking” 1862. Essay featured in The Art of the Personal Essay, Phillip Lopate, page 487
- Collective Evolution website: “Doctors Explain How Hiking Actually Changes Our Brains“