I recently went on a trek in Spain, walking 125 kilometers in 15 days on the rustic roads of the Camino to Santiago de Compostela. This was a gift to myself after spending a year in the kitchen and on the computer writing my Paleo Desserts cookbook. Walking the Camino was invigorating and beautiful hard work. As I walked from 10 to 24 kilometers per day I noticed something amazing. Even though I was tired and took a few days off, every single day I felt better. At the end of the trek I felt terrific! I had been studying the benefits of walking for some time, and now I was experiencing it first hand.
Our bodies are genetically designed to walk. Walking is one of the most primal movements known to man. Bipedal movement is part of our genetic heritage. Form follows function, and our bodies developed in such a way that walking is essential to health. Here are ten surprising benefits of walking.
1. A walk in nature sharpens the mind. A walk in the city does not.
The University of Michigan conducted experiments to test memory and attention before and after a walk. Sometime the volunteers walked in the city, and other times they walked through a nearby arboretum. Dr. John Jonides, professor of psychology and neuroscience, published the results of their experiments in the journal Psychological Science. His researchers found that “when the participants returned from the nature walk, they showed a 20% overall improvement in memory and attention, but after the urban walks showed no improvement at all.”
2. Walking speeds metabolism and burns calories even after you stop.
Walking just two miles can result in increased calorie consumption for up to 12 hours afterwards, says Dr. Eherenfried Pfeiffer, famous nutritionist, biochemist and understudy of Rudolph Steiner. Hundreds of calorie-burning muscles are utilized by walking. Walking briskly on a daily basis also increases enzyme activity and other metabolic functions. The more out of shape you are, the greater the metabolic benefits your body will experience through walking.
3. Walking reduces anxiety and stress levels
Anxiety is one of America’s most common diagnoses. And stress is part of all our lives. The movement of walking massages the organs, and helps the body to process and digest emotional experiences. As we breathe and the diaphragm contracts, anxiety, stress and negative emotions can dissolve, move out of the tissues to be eliminated from the body through the intestines. All the organs are massaged during a walk: Lungs, heart, stomach, intestines, liver, bladder and kidneys. Regular walking can remove stuck emotions and body fluids, also known as constipation. Living with less stress, anxiety and stuck emotions, frees us to be ourselves and respond to every moment in a real and intelligent way.
4. Stimulates the brain.
As the legs move in opposition to the arms, called the “cross-crawl”, the cortices of the brain are activated. This simple exercise balances left and right brain hemispheres. This in turn benefits every function in the mind and body.
5. Circulates the body vital fluids.
All the body fluids are activated in walking. Blood, lymph, sinovial fluid, and cerebral spinal fluid all begin to flow in natural ways as we walk. This enhances our vital force and the body’s ability to heal itself.
6. Dissolves Toxins.
When the body fluids are moving, toxins get flushed out, and can’t stick around like dirty laundry. There are plenty of toxins in our environment. It is our job to keep them moving through the system and out. However, when we are sedentary, these toxins can collect and accumulate in the bones, muscles and body tissues.
7. Physical contact with the Earth grounds and balances the energy body.
It moves the Qi in the body. We are electro-magnetic beings, and the body produces positive charges. The Earth’s surface is electrically conductive, and it maintains a negative charge. Mounting evidence suggests that the interaction between the positive charges of our body, and the Earth’s negative charges, can stabilize the body’s internal bio-electrical functions. The oscillations in the Earth’s charge stimulate and re-set our biological clock. These benefits appear to be even greater with bare feet, in direct contact with the Earth. Studies suggest that major benefits such can occur in just 30-80 minutes of barefoot time a day. Another option is to use a grounding or “Earthing Mat” from www.earthing.com.
8. Decreases the risk of disease
Walking in Nature has been shown to reduce sleep apnea, chronic pain, asthma and respiratory conditions, rheumatoid arthritis, depression, ADD, PMS, hypertension, immune system function, heart rate variability, and blood sugar levels. The influx of free electrons from the Earth’s surface is said to help to neutralize free radicals and reduce inflammation, which is at the root of many health conditions and accelerated aging.
8. Walking in Nature reduces negative effects of radiation and EMF’s.
Modern electromagnetic pollution is now widespread in cities. Our environment is buzzing with invisible radiation, which surrounds and penetrates the body. We absorb radiation from electric appliances, cordless phones, power lines, cell phones and towers, satellites, and WIFI. In an article recently published in the Journal of Environmental and Public Health, researchers say that the transfer of electrons from the Earth into the human body offers an “umbrella” of protection from the negative effects of radiation and EMF’s. As we walk on the Earth, we reinforce this shield, or personal Wei Chi field, which protects us from exposure to radiation.
9. Renews the spirit
Contact with the primal elements: Sunlight, Earth, Air, Water, Moon, and Sky raises your level of harmony and attunement. It reduces your reactions to excess stimulation and to the chatter in your own brain. When your mind and body are working together, your system is in harmony. You are connected. In this state you are less likely to experience conflict, disorientation, sadness, or depression.
10. Walking is free!
You don’t need a lot of gear to walk. You don’t have to hire a physical trainer or buy expensive equipment to benefit from walking. How much time and money do we spend each year doing un-natural exercise in un-natural spaces? How often do we perform repetitive exercises that do nothing to harmonize the physical body functions so they work together to optimize health?
So kick off your shoes and enjoy a nice walk!
* A note of caution is in order if you are coming out of an illness, or have not walked recently. Some ailments are not aided by walking, and there may be preliminary adjustments needed in order for you to receive the benefits of walking. Check with your medical practitioner before beginning a walking regime.