Why Walking Outside is Great for Your Body, Mind, and Spirit

I love walking and I try to do it as much as I can. That was why I was happy to see an article in the New York Times this week about how walking just 10 minutes a day may lead to a longer life.

The article referred to a study, just published in JAMA Internal Medicine, that demonstrated how just a small amount of additional exercise by everyone each day could prevent hundreds of thousands of premature deaths over the coming years.

Those results don’t surprise me, as we don’t have to look far to see the alarming statistics around cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. An article on MedlinePlus shows the health risks of an inactive, “couch potato” lifestyle, and it offers some simple ways to increase your level of activity, including going for regular walks.

Photographer: Inside Weather | Source: Unsplash

Sitting is the new smoking

We live in an increasingly sedentary society. In fact, a 2019 article by the heart association asked the question, Is Sitting the New Smoking? This article found that people who sit the most, compared to people who sit the least, have a greater risk of disease and death.

When the COVID restrictions had us all locked away in our homes, many people turned to walking as a way to get outside into the fresh air, see our friends and neighbours, and have some much-needed exercise. After spending the entire day on Zoom calls, many of us craved a brisk walk through the neighourhood.

I love walking for so many reasons. Aside from the fact that it makes me feel better physically, it does so much more. Walking helps me to connect with my environment. I’ve lived in this area for almost twenty years, but I never knew how beautiful it was until I started walking.

I’ve enjoyed seeing the huge old trees, looking at the different houses, and watching the gardens come out in the spring. I’ve encountered many of my neighbours, and their dogs, and it’s given me a much greater sense of grounding and connection to place.

Photographer: Robert Katzki | Source: Unsplash

Walking outside connects me to nature and the seasons

I’ve had a stronger appreciation of the four seasons here in Toronto. Walking through rain, snow, sunny days, and cloudy ones; watching the leaves turn red and fall to the ground, and then seeing the buds come out and turn into new leaves — all of it has left me feeling so much more connected to the earth and the seasons.

The smell of wet mud in the spring, then the scent of new flowers, and then the smell of the fall rains — all of that is very meaningful to me. Smell is a powerful sense that evokes memory and emotion. Connecting with nature has been a delightful gift — enriching and soothing to my spirit.

Walking is a great exercise because it’s so meditative. I’ve worked on my novels on my walks, figuring out problems, writing lines of dialogue in my head, and imagining new scenes. My mind clears as I walk outside, enabling my creativity to flow freely.

I also use the time during my walks to problem-solve in other ways, sorting out any issues I might have in my life. The rhythm and ease of walking enables me to find solutions that I couldn’t have imagined while sitting still.

Photographer: Henry Ravenscroft | Source: Unsplash

Walking is social and a great way to resolve issues with someone

Walking is also a great way to socialize with a friend or loved one. Instead of sitting down and eating or doing something passive like watching a movie or a concert, walking is an activity we can share. It can become a powerful bonding activity. Walking your dog is a great way to deepen your connection with them.

I find that talking to someone about a difficult topic is always so much easier when we do it while walking. I tend to be more articulate when I’m walking, and the other person tends to be more open and receptive. Walking makes difficult conversations that much easier.

Walking connects me with my body in a positive way. In a society so obsessed with size and shape, walking makes me feel good in my body in a way that has nothing to do with these things.

I enjoy putting one foot in front of the other; swinging my arms, standing up straight with my shoulders back. I feel happy in my body without judgment or the desire for anything to change. And paradoxically, as I walk, my body does change.

I’ve found that walking is one of the best exercises for maintaining a healthy weight. As a mature woman, I can no longer eat whatever I want and sit around doing nothing and stay skinny.

Photographer: Bruno Nascimento | Source: Unsplash

Walking helps me stay strong and healthy

These days, I have to work at keeping my muscles and bones strong and my weight stable. Walking is an easy way to maintain fitness and boost my metabolism without having to restrict my eating or engage in intensive workouts.

With walking, my body fat is slowly converting to muscle; my bone density is constantly improving, and I can eat a bowl of pasta without it going straight to my hips.

I do find that walking can tighten certain muscle groups, but my morning yoga routine seems to balance that out perfectly. Walking forces us to stretch and maintain flexibility, which can only be a good thing.

Wednesday, April 6 is National Walking Day, and I invite everyone to get outside and go for a walk that day. If you like it, keep on walking. You won’t regret it. I’ll be out there, too.

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Marcia Sirota

Marcia Sirota

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Writer, speaker, MD, and author of the Short & Sweet Guides to Life book series