“The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground.” – The Buddha
Now that winter is finally over — after what seems like forever — more and more of us are getting outside and being active. It’s a time that I like to go for walks to watch the world wake up from its long sleep.
Walking is one of the most useful exercises we have because it offers us so many key health benefits, as enumerated by many, many studies:
- Even one hour a week at the average pace reduce hip fracture risk by 6% in postmenopausal women, while walking for at least four hours a week was associated with a 41% lower risk of fracture (Feskanich et al., 2002)
- Walking reduces the tendency to high blood pressure, the risk of blood clots and stroke, and multiple cardiovascular risk factors (Murtagh et al., 2015).
- In older adults, walking more correlates to lower risk of depression and greater quality of life (Arrieta et al., 2018).
- Brisk walking improves oxygen uptake and cardiovascular fitness as well as muscle tone—while alkalizing the body.
But I would argue that simply hopping on a treadmill for 10–15 minutes every other day, while it gathers all those benefits and more, somewhat misses the point. Walking outdoors gives us a chance to reconnect with the world around us — ideally in a soothing natural environment like a park or trail, or at the very least a tree-lined sidewalk. (Interestingly — and something that resonates with the Earth Day anniversary coming up — research shows that people who walk in parks tend to get more benefits due to less interruptions in walking from traffic or other hazards they must negotiate [Sellers et al., 2012]).
When we walk outside, we can enjoy the breeze, the rain, the sun, the leaves — all that the world has to offer. And it reconnects us to ourselves in a very useful way: Walking upright on two legs is the trait that defines the human lineage. Even though we’ve become used to sitting more than standing nowadays, regular walking on two legs is considered a uniquely human trait. Taking the time to walk — to put our feet on the ground and feel them, as the Buddhist saying goes — can offer us a type of internal realignment that very few other exercise methods provide.
As we approach Earth Day, we have the opportunity to celebrate all the positives that walking offers us. If you can, take that opportunity in a park or garden path; let your feet touch the ground, mindful of all the good things walking in the open air can bring you.
But if you can’t, no worries! No matter how you like to do it—in groups, by yourself, fast or slow, listening to music or meditating—just walk. Do it on a regular basis. Do it 30 minutes a day, and your bones and entire body will thrive.
Arrieta H, Rezola-Pardo C, Echevarria I, et al. Physical activity and fitness are associated with verbal memory, quality of life and depression among nursing home residents: preliminary data of a randomized controlled trial. BMC Geriatr. 2018 Mar 27;18(1):80. doi: 10.1186/s12877-018-0770-y.
Feskanich D1, Willett W, Colditz G. Walking and leisure-time activity and risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women. JAMA. 2002 Nov 13;288(18):2300-2306.
Murtagh EM, Nichols L, Mohammed MA, et al. The effect of walking on risk factors for cardiovascular disease: an updated systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised control trials. Prev Med. 2015 Mar;72:34-43.
Sellers CE, Grant PM, Ryan CG, et al. Take a walk in the park? A cross-over pilot trial comparing brisk walking in two different environments: park and urban. Prev Med. 2012 Nov;55(5):438-43.