Now that the holidays are over, I think that an exercise related post is well-needed. I’m sure that many of you, myself included, are in a hurry to get back to the usual diet and exercise routine. Christmas cookies be gone!
When it comes to exercise, I prefer the intensity and difficulty to be high. I like difficult workouts. I want to feel like I was just running away from Jason from Friday the 13th for the last two hours when my workouts done.
I want to feel and know that I had a good workout. I want to be sore the next day. I want to have difficulty moving around with ease because I tore it up the day before. The satisfaction that comes along with knowing that you had a good workout trumps the temporary pain you have to deal with afterward.
That being said, this mindset has not always been helpful for me. It’s caused me some issues with going too hard and too fast. I have had my share of injuries in the past from pushing it too far.
Due to my blinding love for intense exercise, I overlooked one type of exercise that just may be the perfect type of exercise for the human body, which is walking.
I always considered walking as a way to get from one point to the other. I never truly considered it an elite form of exercise that I could benefit from in any way.
As I think about it now, I realized that I could not have been more wrong about walking. Walking can benefit the mind and body in some amazing ways.
A Walking Epiphany
I have always scoffed at walking as a form of exercise. Of course, I have gone on walks in the usual places that most do throughout their life, but never thought there was much I could gain from it.
As the end of the year approaches, I have been burning the candle at both ends in most areas and have been feeling pretty burned out. The trees are bare and the temperatures are low where I live right now. True sunlight on any given day is a rarity.
With the lower temperatures and lack of sun, I don’t spend much time outside during the winter months. Not many do but there are a few warriors that bare the cold for their daily runs and walks.
I have always heard that walking had a lot of health benefits and can help you sort out your thoughts. Something about moving while being alone with you thoughts apparently provides a healthy atmosphere for clearing your mind.
One of the issues that I struggle a lot with is what I like to call a runaway mind. I have what feels like millions of thoughts going through my head a day. My focus can be all over the place which makes it difficult to get high-quality work done.
On one particularly thought heavy day before Christmas, I decided to try a new type of exercise. Not the usual gym workout but something new. I can’t put my finger on it but something just told me to give walking a try.
I am lucky enough to have a walking trail close to my house which runs along a river and through the woods. It’s quite picturesque.
Luckily, it was one of the warmer days when I decided to go for the walk and I did not need to bundle up too much. When I started walking, I was feeling overwhelmed and stressed out but something happened between the beginning and end of that walk that made a strong enough impact on me to write this post.
As I began to walk, feeling the cold cross my face and hearing the river rush by, I realized that I was going through the thoughts in my head like you would go through folders in a filing cabinet. I wasn’t jumping from thought to thought like I usually did. I was calmly going through each thought and sorting them all out.
The longer I walked the more organized my mind felt. There was a point where it felt like each step was causing me to feel calmer and more collected.
By the time the walk ended, I was in a totally different state of mind. I had gone from stressed out to calm. From overwhelmed to in control. My mind felt calm and clear. It felt really good.
Range of motion
Aside from feeling stressed out, I had been feeling an overall stiffness in my body that I know is from sitting too much. With the cold weather, there’s not a lot to do that doesn’t involve sitting. Even with my daily workouts, it doesn’t seem to be enough movement to keep my body feeling completely limber.
I had a hunch that walking would ease my body out of the stiffness that I had been feeling. Along with the stiffness, I also had a nagging hip pain that randomly came out of the blue one day.
A big mistake that people make when they feel any kind of pain or injury to their body is to completely avoid using that body part until it feels better. I have never found that to work very well. With every single injury that I have had, which includes three knee surgeries (thanks wrestling), I have always found that moving the injured body part to the extent possible helped far more than not moving it when it came to recovery.
After the walk, the stiffness in my knees, legs and back was nearly gone. My body felt great. On top of that, my hip pain was completely gone. As I’m writing this post, it’s been about two weeks since I went for a walk and my hip pain has never returned.
Beyond the body
As I finished that walk and made the fifteen-minute drive back home, I thought about it and realized a couple things. For the first time probably ever, I understood why people talked so highly of walking.
The physical benefits of walking are well-known and I am going to be the last person on earth to make another blog post listing the benefits. It’s an activity that humans have been doing since the beginning of time. If you are not aware of the major physical benefits, here’s a quick read on them from the Arthritis Foundation.
Sure my body felt great after the walk, but the thing I found most interesting was the clarity I was experiencing. My thoughts were very much in line as opposed to them all coming in at once.
I had a sense of calmness and well-being that is difficult to put into words. It’s very similar to the feeling that’s present after a meditation session.
I realized then that all those touting the benefits of walking for clearing your mind and organizing your thoughts were right. Good idea after good idea starting coming up after that walk and I felt like I could’ve written for hours.
The clarity that I felt also last the majority of the day. I went for a walk late into the morning and was still feeling clear-headed into the late night hours, even after work, which is rare.
Walking has the potential to go beyond the body. While a difficult workout can make you feel similar to how I felt after a walk, it can also leave you feeling exhausted and burned out. There’s a price to pay for high intensity workouts. Unless you are a rare specimen, you cannot do them every day and you cannot do them forever.
Knowing that, it’s important to find other forms of exercise that can bring you similar benefits. There is no right or wrong exercise. The benefits you gain from it are the important part. Exercise is a tool that we use to improve our lives and our bodies.
A useful tool
Now walking will obviously not replace lifting weights. Maybe it can tone your legs a bit but probably nothing to a noticeable extent if you are already in shape.
Just because walking won’t pack on lean muscle does not mean that it’s an exercise that you should ignore. To be honest, I feel regretful that I have gone this long ignoring the benefits of walking.
Walking very useful tool for you to use along with your normal workout routine. If lifting weights is your primary source of exercise than you probably have noticed that your mobility takes a hit. Your muscles get bigger and your joints get stiff. Moving around becomes more difficult that it used to be.
Walking is great to counteract the effect that lifting weights can have on your mobility because it gets your whole body moving in a gentle way. Not every exercise has to be difficult. It’s a ying and a yang.
Due to the fact that walking can provide you with the same mental and physical benefits of other types of exercises in a gentle way, I would argue that it is the perfect exercise. It’s an exercise that can be done every day by almost everyone regardless of age. Walking can be done in long distances or longer periods of time with little impact on the body. It will leave you feeling more energized without the soreness. What other exercise is able to do that?
If you were having any of the issues that I was, both physical and mental, I think that you will find walking to be beneficial. Now I haven’t made it a part of my daily routine yet, so I don’t know how far those benefits will go but one walk was enough to open my eyes to the benefits of it.
Is walking a part of your daily routine? I would love to hear the benefits that you have gained or observed from walking below.