Walking for Exercise, Spirtuality and Connection to Nature
By Lois Hoffman
Photo by Frank Shepherd
I have always been a walker. When I was young, I would go for long walks down by our creek on the farm. Later, I got a job with the U. S. Postal Service as a city letter carrier and ended up walking up to eight miles each day.
Walking is by far the best all-around exercise that a person can do. The thing that makes it so great is that everyone can do it, regardless of age, fitness level, etc. It is also the most economical since it doesn’t require any special equipment, only a good pair of walking shoes.
Walking may not be the most strenuous exercise but it is the most effective to get in shape and to burn fat. Besides improving fitness in general, it ramps up cardiac health, alleviates depression and fatigue, is a mood booster, creates less stress on joints than other forms of exercise and reduces pain, can prevent weight gain and reduce body fat and weight gain, improve endurance, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, improve circulation and posture and reduce the risk for cancer and other chronic disease.
Whew! As if that list isn’t impressive enough, Stanford University found that walking increases creative output by a whopping 60 percent.
So, how much walking do you need to get these benefits? Naturally, any amount is better than none. The average American walks between 3,000 and 4,000 steps each day, which equals out to between one and a half to two miles. The general standard is to build up to 10,000 steps a day. Just twelve minutes of walking is enough to boost vigor, mood and self-confidence.
All walking is not created equal though. It all depends on what you want to get out of it and how you feel at the moment. For me, this includes four different types of walking, with each one having a specific purpose.
Photo by Lois Hoffman
Walking With Nature
Especially when the weather is nice, it just feels good to get outside and move. I am fortunate that I live in the country and have fields, meadows and woods to explore. On these walks, I usually grab my camera and ditch my phone.
The purpose of getting out and away is to leave technology behind. Though I love to keep in touch with everyone, sometimes I like time for me, to just be. That means no text messages, no phone calls, no distractions. Yea, it actually feels good to not be tied to a phone for a couple of hours.
Inevitably, there are new flowers, a spider web highlighted by the morning dew, some type of wildlife or a beautiful sky that catches my eye. The very best times are sunrise or sunset when the world, including nature, is a little slower, a little quieter and prettier at those golden hours.
Tied pretty close to walking with nature is prayer walking. Sometimes I just want to take a break and talk to God about “stuff,” really anything and everything that is going on in my life. Closely tied to journaling, it is all about getting it out and telling someone.
These walks don’t always happen when I have problems either. Sometimes when everything is going great, I do my prayer walk with my “attitude of gratitude.” Either way, I always feel better after one of these walks, it’s like laying it all out to a friend in the beauty of nature.
Although I have been doing this for years, it was only a few years ago that I actually saw a name for it. Prayer walking is a great motivator to get me going some days.
Sometimes my “go-to” is the treadmill. When I want a fast-paced or HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout, the treadmill is the way to go. It has been proven that getting your heart rate up for a few minutes by combining short bursts of high intensity exercise with periods of lower intensity is good for your heart and also for weight loss.
For this type of exercise, I like the treadmill instead of walking outside because it is so much more precise with no fear of tripping over uneven ground. I also have the option of walking on an incline and can watch my progress since the monitors tell me my heart rate, distance and speed.
The downside to walking on the treadmill is the boredom. To combat this, I usually have my earbuds with some favorite music. It makes the time go faster and I can pace myself with it, whether I want a slow, even walk or sometimes I crank it up a few notches to get the juices going. This is also a great way to relieve stress…and sometimes to get anger out of my system. Hey, better to take it out on the treadmill, right?
I have discovered the “Walk at Home” walking videos by Leslie Sansone. What is great about these is that she has developed walking routines that are a mile long, two miles, five miles, etc. and you do them right in your living room by walking in place. She combines continuous walking with a few other moves like side stepping, skaters and leg lifts to make it interesting. By the time you finish the video, you know exactly how many miles you have walked.
There are also Team Body Project workouts that combines continuous walking with resistance exercises, so you get a two-for-one punch.
Perhaps the best part about these videos is that they are free and you can get a good workout without any special equipment like a treadmill. She has some workouts designed for older folks and some if you want to step it up a notch.
By Lois Hoffman
Walking has always been a way of life for me and I love how I have different choices. It not only keeps it interesting, but also allows me to choose what is right for me on any one day. Unlike other workouts, walking is something that I will be able to enjoy for many more years, in one form or another. These days it is hard to find something that is good for you that you can do anywhere and costs nothing. You know, Forrest Gump started walking and never stopped for a while. It definitely grows on you!
Lois Hoffman is a freelance writer and photographer covering rural living with more than 20 years of experience, contributing to Successful Farming, Country, and Farm & Ranch Living. She lives on a 37-acre hobby farm in Pennsylvania. Read all of Lois’ GRIT posts here.
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