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Take a Hike! A Prescription for Better Health

student-walking-her-dog

Tue, 03/31/2020 - 1:15pm

Walking is one of the easiest ways to improve and maintain your overall health. In the midst of the current pandemic we are facing, it is important to keep your physical and mental well-being, while practicing social distancing. And, unlike many other types of exercise, walking is free. It can be done almost anywhere and anytime. Best of all, walking doesn’t require any training or special equipment. 

Due to all the innovations in technologies, communications and transportation, children and adults alike spend too much time sitting and not enough time getting the exercise required to maintain good health. As a college student with online classes to attend, assignments to complete and tests for which you must study, you too probably find yourself sitting way too many hours of the day. 

 It’s obvious that we must proactively choose and plan to find ways to get the exercise our bodies need. Walking is one of the easiest and best ways to accomplish this. 

 Health Benefits of Walking 

Walking is a simple, safe-to-do low-impact form of exercise. Plus, there are numerous health benefits derived from walking. It will reduce your risk of developing: 

  • Heart disease and stroke 
  • Type 2 diabetes 
  • Osteoporosis 
  • Some cancers 

 Since you carry your own body weight when walking, it’s known as a weight-bearing form of exercise. Weight-bearing exercises such as walking, hiking, jogging and dancing force you to work against gravity which makes these exercises especially beneficial for bone strength and health. Other benefits include: 

  • Reduced body fat and obesity 
  • Increased muscle strength 
  • Better management of high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol 
  • Improved relief from joint and muscular pain or stiffness 
  • Increased pulmonary (heart and lung) and cardiovascular fitness 
  • Improved balance 
  • Increased endurance and stamina 
  • Improved concentration 
  • Better and more restful sleep 

Walking is good for mental as well as physical health. Stanford University researchers discovered that walking increases creative output by sixty percent. According to this study, “walking opens up the free flow of ideas, and it is a simple and robust solution to the goals of increasing creativity and increasing physical activity.” If you’ve hit a roadblock in your studies, a brisk walk may help free up ideas and find a solution. 

Health Benefits of Being Outdoors 

Sure, you can walk at the mall or on a treadmill, but there are actual health benefits to walking outdoors. Walking outside increases your vitamin D levels. In fact, sunlight is the only way our bodies can naturally produce vitamin D, an essential vitamin our bodies need to fight disease and grow strong bones and teeth. 

 Want another good reason to walk outside? According to the Environmental Protection Agency, we spend approximately ninety percent of our time indoors where certain pollutants may have two to five times higher concentration levels than outside air! That’s right, despite all the smog and air pollution, outside air can be healthier than inside air. 

 Ecotherapy—therapy to improve mental and physical wellbeing through outdoor activities in nature—improves mental and physical well-being when doing outdoor activities in nature. Walking or hiking outside is a great way to reduce stress, anxiety and depression. According to Dr. Jason Strauss, director of geriatric psychiatry at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance, “Interacting with nature is one of the best [mental health] self-improvement tools.” 

 In 2010, English scientists determined that just five minutes of green exercise—physical exercise in a natural environment—improves mood and self-esteem. 

 How to Incorporate More Steps into Your Day 

A 2007 study of inactive middle-aged women determined that low levels of exercise—as little as 75 minutes each week—can improve fitness levels. Most experts advise a brisk walking program of 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week to obtain health benefits. How do you know you are walking briskly? During a brisk walk, you can still talk but not sing any you may be puffing slightly. 

 The 30 minutes of activity doesn’t even have to take place all at once, however. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans states that you can break the exercise into three, ten-minute sessions and still receive the benefit. So, how can you incorporate more walking into your day? Try some of these ideas. 

  • Walking after taking engaging in an online class 
  • Walk to local shops and restaurants for pick up orders
  • Don’t park close when parking your car 
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator 

 Walk whenever you can. When you get ready to jump into your car, ask yourself if you have the time and energy to walk instead of driving. Building physical activity into your daily lifestyle is one of the most effective ways to work more steps into your day. 

 Walking and Hiking Safety Tips 

While walking is one of the safest forms of exercise, you can make it even more secure. Follow these tips to keep it safe. 

  • Communicate with your doctor before beginning a new exercise or fitness program, especially if you are overweight or haven’t exercised in a long time 
  • Start and finish with these warm-up and cool down tips from the American Heart Association 
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after exercise 
  • Wear good walking shoes and loose comfortable clothing 
  • Use sunscreen to protect your skin from UV rays and insect repellent to ward off mosquitoes and ticks 
  • Carry a walking stick or umbrella to fend off unfriendly dogs 

 How to Make Walking More Fun 

Let’s face it. We’re all busy. We only have so many hours in the day, so why would we spend valuable free time doing something that isn’t fun? Granted, your physical health may be at stake if you don’t, but, fortunately, there are ways to make walking more enjoyable. 

  • Walk your dog or walk with a friend, or walk your friend’s dog 
  • Listen to music or an audiobook 
  • Vary where you walk and the time of day you walk 
  • Explore your environment while you walk—take time to notice the beauty around you 

 Wearing a pedometer or using an activity tracker can make it more fun, as well, by helping you track your progress and giving you a way to set and meet walking goals. According to the Mayo Clinic, 10,000 steps is a good goal to work towards. 

There’s no shortage of scientific research to back up the benefits of walking—both physical and mental. So, as Nike would say … Just do it! 

As you contemplate undergraduate or graduate degree programs, why not consider the University of the Cumberlands? Our professors have years of real-world experience in the fields in which they teach; our tuition rates are competitive; and, there’s a sense of honor in everything we do.  Contact an admissions counselor for more information.