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Walking for Wellness: How Walking Improves Your Body & Brain

Walking is good for us, and we all know it. There are dozens of health benefits to putting one foot in front of the other…and it’s pretty much as simple as that at any age and especially when we get older.

Walking is one of the easiest ways to get physical exercise and comes with a whole host of physical advantages.

Walking can…

· Give you more energy

o Brisk walking and other forms of cardiovascular exercise trigger the release of endorphins that give your body and brain a jolt.

· Boost your overall immune system

o Walking increases the amount of white blood cells circulating through your body which fight infection and other disease.

· Reduce inflammation and improve arthritis

o Walking strengthens the muscles that support our joints, which is great, but it also increases blood flow to cartilage, helping protect and preserve the cushion we have left between our bones.

· Improve coordination, balance and stability

o Walking helps build lower-body strength, an important element of good balance.

As Einstein explained, "Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving."

· Help to lower blood pressure as well as the risk of heart disease and stroke

o Walking makes your heart stronger. A stronger heart can pump more blood with less effort. If your heart can work less to pump, the force on your arteries decreases, lowering your blood pressure.

· Benefit overall cardiovascular health

o Harvard researchers found that walking reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by a whopping 31%.

· Strengthen breathing and improve lung health

o A brisk 30-minute walk can increase lung capacity, allowing you to breathe easier, and your lungs to stay healthier longer.

· Lower blood sugar and help manage diabetes

o Exercise has been proven to increase insulin sensitivity in cells and your muscles use more glucose thus lowering blood sugar levels.

· Burn calories

o A 180-pound person burns 115 calories per mile…that’s half of a Hershey bar. When you build lean muscle, you burn more calories.

And those are just some of the physical benefits! Did you know that walking also contributes to improvements in your cognitive health?

Walking and all forms of exercise have enormous benefits for our mental health and brain function. Breathing deeper means more oxygen gets to your brain. Exercise also promotes neural growth—creating new connections in the brain and promoting neuroplasticity. Exercise releases feel-good hormones in the brain and slow down the release of hormones associated with our bodies’ stress response. Fewer stress hormones and more feel-good hormones? Yes, please!

Taking a short walk can help you…

· Improve memory

o Exercise increases the amount of oxygen getting to the brain and other organs…in short, more oxygen means less brain fog.

· Sharpen reaction times

o Learning new things and challenging the brain helps strengthen neurons and decrease the brain’s response time.

· Reduce the risk of dementia

o Walking can physically change your brain, expanding the hippocampus which is the part of the brain where we store memories.

· Improve mood

o Endorphins released while exercising have been clinically proven to interact with pain receptors in the brain, reducing the perception of pain and making us feel better.

· Manage depression

o Walking releases endorphins, natural cannabis-like brain chemicals.

· Reduce stress and anxiety

o Exercise also slows down the production of cortisol in the adrenal gland…cortisol is the primary hormone that triggers the stress response in our bodies.

· Worry less about negative things

o Taking a walk can get your mind off of your worries and can help break the cycle of negative thoughts.

· Innovate and solve problems

o Many of history's greatest thinkers and authors were known for their long daily walks, some walking for hours at a time.

· Think creatively

o Walking can literally help the brain create new connections, circuits and neural pathways.

The World Health Organization recommends older adults get at least 20 to 40 minutes of moderate exercise every day, so if you’re interested in creating a fitness routine, you could start there.

A few other tips to get started:

· Start small and build up your endurance. If you can only walk for a short while, do what you can and take a rest. Try to get up and get moving every two hours at least. If you wake up at 9 a.m., try going for a little walk in the morning, after lunch, before dinner and before bed. If you walk for 10 minutes four times a day, that adds up to 40 minutes of daily exercise!

· Smart phones are SUPER smart and have apps to count steps! Ask a friend to help you download a digital pedometer if your phone doesn’t have one built in.

· Some people strive for 10,000 steps a day, so that’s a goal you could work up to as well.

· Stay hydrated with cool water and rest when you get tired. It can be easy to overdo it when you’re starting out.

· Choose a speed or pace that’s comfortable for you and don’t worry about keeping up with others. This is your journey!

· Step heel-to-toe for proper form and make sure you wear supportive, closed-toe shoes.

· Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth (smell the roses and blow out the candles).

· Listen to music or an audiobook to help pass the time! But remember, walking with headphones can also make you a little less aware of what’s going on around you. Make sure to look around every so often and be extra careful at crosswalks and intersections.

· Just keep going—if you get off track with your goals or routine, brush it off and start again. It’s progress that’s important, not perfection.

· Have fun! Walking is one of the most popular forms of exercise because it’s easy (for most) and doesn’t require special equipment.

At Melrose Meadows, walking is more than just encouraged…it’s CELEBRATED!

Starting in April, the Melrose Meadows Walking Club starts back up, and residents couldn’t be more ready for the warmer weather and outdoor social time.

Members of the club walk individually or in small groups on the paved walking lane around the building. In addition to being a way to make friends and enjoy our community, members get to enjoy the beautiful campus and keep an eye on the flowering crabapple trees (which are a sight for sore eyes)! Walking with the club is a great way to get some fresh air and maybe even a little sunshine on your shoulders!

Want to read more? Take a look at some of our source material:

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