Senior Couple Walking In Park TogetherA little walking goes a long way

Do you remember when your grandparents used to walk in the mall before stores opened in the morning? Turns out they were making a smarter decision than you may have given them credit for. Walking—simple, basic walking, no bells and whistles—has such significant health benefits that the American Heart Association calls it “…the simplest positive change you can make to effectively improve your heart health.”

And the health benefits of walking are not just—or maybe even not primarily—physical. Dr. Jim Phelps, a specialist in bipolar disorder, says that exercise is a vital part of treating the illness, and that “in [his] view, the [exercise] that wins over everything else by a long shot is….a short walk.” Research proves his view; studies have shown that even more common mental disorders like depression can be treated successfully with exercise, and that it is sometimes just as effective as antidepressants!

In fact, as researchers have looked more and more into the issue, they’ve discovered that the health benefits to walking are almost too numerous to count. So skip the elevator in the parking deck. Take a turn around the block mid-day. And when you get home, turn off the tube for ten minutes, lace up your sneakers, and take yourself out the front door for a stroll around the neighborhood. It turns out that glowingly good health is just a short walk away.

Ten good reasons to start walking

1. Live longer

Let’s start with the basics; a study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that adding 150 minutes of walking a week could add more than 3 years to your lifespan. That may sound like a lot of laps, but it breaks down to little more than 20 minutes of walking per day. And, predictably, those who added more minutes of walking added even more years to their lives. So take that third coffee break and turn it into a brisk jaunt—even if you have to walk up and down the stairs in your office building for a while. You’ll live to thank your younger self.

2. Have a happy heart

Studies show that the health benefits of walking include decreasing your risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Contrary to popular belief, and lucky for those of us who don’t imagine a marathon in our futures, walking works just as well as running when it comes to heart health. Walking affects almost every single risk factor associated with CVD, including reducing blood pressure, lowering bad cholesterol, and decreasing the risk for diabetes.

3. Boost your mood

Did your mother ever send you outside to run around when you were talking back to her? Turns out she knew exactly what she was doing. There are mental health benefits to walking; it not only improves your overall mental health, it can make an immediate difference in mood. An Australian study found that “employees who took a 30-minute walk at lunchtime felt more enthusiastic and more relaxed in the afternoon” than those who simply sat and stewed.

4. Get creative

Have you been waiting for inspiration to come to you? Try walking to it instead. Taking a short walk each day could get the creative juices flowing, according to a recent study at Stanford University. Researchers found that “walking boosts creative ideation in real time and shortly after.” Want to be the next Picasso? Walk it out!

5. Keep the weight off

Carrying extra weight is a risk factor for all sorts of health problems, including cardiovascular disease. Thinking about weight loss is discouraging for most people, but remember, we’re not talking about a body overhaul here. Shedding even a few extra pounds can be very good for your health, and walking is one way to do it.

6. Stay sharp

The next time you need to do some mental arithmetic, take a walk. Research shows an association between improved cognitive function and physical exercise, and there are even studies that suggest walking decreases the risk of dementia. While this area of study is still ongoing, the preliminary research is positive; current studies are examining the role of walking in lowering the risk of even more insidious cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

7. Get better at being together

There are more than just mental and health benefits to walking. What’s one simple way to increase intimacy in your romantic relationship? Walk together. Taking a walk gives you an opportunity to connect by talking about your days, or by simply holding hands. And walking with your spouse will keep him or her healthier, too; research shows that couples who work out together are more likely to keep working out after a few years than those who do so separately.

8. Be mindful

Psychology Today describes mindfulness as a state of “active, open attention to the present.” When’s the last time you really stopped to smell the roses? Seen a sunset lately? A walk around the neighborhood or in the local park gives you the chance to do just that. Not only does mindfully observing your environment and offer many health benefits, it’s also a safety precaution. If you know your environment well, you’re in a better position to know when something may be amiss.

9. Get your vitamins

Sunlight boosts your levels of vitamin D, a nutrient that’s difficult to get from food but is produced naturally in the body in response to sunlight. This basic building block is necessary for everything from bone growth to happiness. When the weather’s nice, don’t miss the chance to take a walk outside and improve your health with a double dose.

10. Have fun!

Let’s face it: very few of us get to have our full daily allotment of fun. Work, the kids, the bank, the grocery store—the list of our responsibilities goes on and on, and it’s hard to find time to take a break. But fun isn’t a luxury. It’s actually part of your recipe for success, both at work and at home, and giving yourself even ten minutes of a good time pays off in the long term. If you don’t think of a simple walk as fun, find ways to spice it up. Look around for the funniest street scene you can find. Play chicken with a squirrel. Kick leaves up into a whirlwind, or take a tip from your dog and chase some birds. Infuse your day with the simple joy of living. The mental and health benefits of walking will change your life.

While you’re out there kicking up your heels, don’t forget that another key component to good health is a good healthcare plan. Whether you’re in the market for single or family insurance, dental or Medicare Part D, HealthMarkets Insurance Agency can help you find the plan that’s right for you.

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