The Wonders of Walking: How Walking is the Most Underrated Exercise

Wonders of Walking WilcoWellness

 

One of the first monuments in our lives are those first few steps we take.

As we age, our walks become more valuable; we spend them communing with nature, making business deals, and conversing with people we care about.

We take walks to escape stressful situations and cool our minds and brainstorm our next big idea. Walking is one of the most under-appreciated things we do in life, and this simple activity benefits our body, mind, and spirit.

How does walking work?

The cycle of walking requires two phases, which are referred to as the “gait.” The first phase of the gait is called the “stance,” whereupon the foot is on the ground. The second phase occurs when the foot swings from the ground.

This is called the “swing,” and it comprises 40% of the cycle. Walking requires a coordinated effort of the brain, the hips, the knees, and the feet. By stretching the hips, knees, and feet often, you can walk better and walk longer without placing too much pressure on any single area of your body.

Why is walking important?

Taking at least one walk a day can have a tremendous effect on overall health and wellbeing. Thirty minutes of walking each day can significantly improve cardiovascular fitness while strengthening bones, tightening muscles, and increasing energy.

Walking benefits mental health by:

  • Increasing self-esteem
  • Brightening mood
  • Radically reducing stress and anxiety
  • Decreasing fatigue

Walking benefits physical health by:

How much should you walk to achieve these benefits?

Walking 10,000 steps a day is considered ideal by many experts, and while that seems like a lot, it certainly doesn’t have to happen all at once. To reach this goal, you might consider walking to nearby places more often rather than driving.

Another consideration is to walk to the grocery store once a week or walk to work more often. For those of you who aren’t counting steps with your watch or an app on your phone, 30 minutes of walking a day or at least 150 minutes of walking a week is considered enough to reap the benefits of walking without overdoing it.

How to make walking more interesting?

If you need a little more motivation for your walks, you’re not alone. In this busy society of ours, it’s become harder and harder to step away from our work and obligations to find time to walk in peace. For many, the joy of walking is hampered by the stresses of everyday life. To make walking a little more enjoyable, there are a few things you can try:

  • Mixing up where you walk: If you’re a mall walker, maybe it’s time to try taking a hike through nature. And if you’re a nature junkie, you might find it interesting to take a trek through the city. Fortunately for us here in Williamson County, there are a plethora of sites to see, from the big city to the rivers and walking paths. More on those below!
  • Walking with a dog: A dog’s got to walk, and their enthusiasm for walking is undoubtedly inspiring. Most dogs love to walk fast and walk as long as possible. You’ll be able to count on your dog to keep going as long as you do, and your dog might even get you running! Did you know there are dog parks in Williamson County? Now you do!
  • Wear a pedometer and challenge yourself: By wearing a pedometer, you can easily track how many steps you are taking, then challenge yourself to increase that amount each day. Choose a healthy reward for yourself or plan a special night of pure relaxation for the end of the week after you have reached your goal.
  • Join (or start) a walking club: Accountability partners can make all the difference in reaching your health and fitness goals and sticking with them for the long-term. If you don’t have a friend to go on walks with, you might consider finding a walking group near you, or better yet, starting one with a few neighbors and friends.

Tips for Walking Safely

Three factors to consider to walk safely are: what shoes you wear, the safety precautions you take, and how you prepare for and cool down from a walk.

#1 – Walking Shoes

Walking shoes come in all different kinds of colors and styles, but there are a few primary components that go into making a shoe ideal for walking. First, pick a shoe that provides ample arch and heel support.

Next, choose a size that offers a little room in the toe area, so that your feet aren’t scrunched up against the shoe as you move. Be sure to pick a pair that offers cushioning in the midsoles, as this portion of our feet tends to strike the ground with the most force. And finally, look for shoes that provide good traction to avoid slipping no matter which surface you walk on.

#2 – Safety Precautions

Personal safety is extremely important while walking in public areas, especially when out in nature where you think nobody else is around. For starters, it’s crucial to stay alert and aware of your surroundings. If you absolutely must walk with headphones in, keep the volume low and only use one earbud.

The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office offers self-defense classes, and in addition to taking classes, it’s wise to carry at least one self-defense tool, such as mace. Be sure to keep your phone charged at all times, and let someone know where you’re going as an added precaution.

#3 – Warming Up and Cooling Down

Before heading out on your walk, it’s best to warm up with soft exercises such as lunges and squats, jumping jacks, or arm circles. This will help to get the blood flowing and prevent any injuries. While you might think that stretching beforehand is the way to go, research suggests that it’s best to save the stretches for after the walk is finished.

Stretching before a walk loosens up muscles and tendons, making them more prone to injury. Stretching after a walk, however, is known to improve flexibility and expedite post-workout recovery.

Where are some great places to walk in Williamson County?

Parks, rivers, and paths galore! Williamson County has no shortage of places to explore. If you’re looking for a walking path, check out one of Williamson County’s beautiful nature parks, such as the Lake Park Trails in Hutto or the Veteran Memorial Park in Cedar Park.

If you would prefer to venture off the beaten path, you can find a map of trails nearby on TrailLink. No matter where you go, no two walks are ever the same!

 

Stop Stressing: Why Wellness is Important to a Healthy, Happy Life

Addressing Your Stress

 

 

Whether it’s a hard life event or day-to-day tasks piling up, stress is hard on the human body. In this blog, we discuss what stress does to your body and why the mind and body connection is crucial to a healthy, happy life!

Why is wellness essential to immunity?

Stress is a part of life, but Psychologists say that your state of mind affects your state of health.

The mind and body have a way of interacting. Stress may motivate you to get a difficult task done or overwhelm you (and destroy any chance of motivation). If your anxiety or stress is chronic, it can take a heavy toll on your immune system.

 “Eliminating or modifying these factors in [one person’s life]  is vital to protect and augment the immune response,” according to Clinical Immunologist Leonard Calabrese, DO at the Cleveland Clinic. Stress impacts your immunity, and taking action to minimize its effect is essential. Mind and body wellness are vital to protect a healthy lifestyle and avoid unwanted symptoms. Let’s take a look at stress and the human body!

What does stress do to your body?

There are several ways that the body reacts to stressful situations, including bills, work, and tending to relationships. Primarily, the body will become feeling overwhelmed or tense. It’s an entirely reasonable and necessary response.

We all feel stress

In the short-term, stress can be useful. It can help you pass a test or get the house clean. Ladies, moderate pressure might even get to propose. However, when this hardwired emotion hangs out for too long or too often, a primitive reaction, known as fight or flight, will have detrimental effects throughout the body – includes damaging effects to organs and cells.

Chronic stress feels a bit different. People may feel emotional effects, including depression, anxiety, irritability, and a lower sex drive. Physical effects may present in muscle tension, frequent colds or infections, low energy, upset stomach, insomnia, or headaches.

The body’s adrenal gland will release hormones to deal with tension:

  • Cortisol
  • Epinephrine (Adrenaline)
  • Norepinephrine

When these hormones levels are increased and travel through the body, it can cause unwanted, long-term effects.

Epinephrine and norepinephrine play a vital role in the body’s natural fight-or-flight response to stress. Norepinephrine mostly has effects on the blood vessels, while epinephrine mainly has effects on the heart. Also known as Adrenaline, this hormone will cause the heart to beat faster and raise blood pressure higher, which can lead to hypertension.

Cortisol affects the endothelium (inner layer of cells within the blood and lymphatic vessels) not to function correctly, which triggers cholesterol to build up and increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

The brain deals with stress by activating the autonomic nervous system. This system controls body functions like urination, heart rate, digestion, respiratory rate, and sexual arousal. Through this connection, the brain “calls up” the intestinal nervous system to communicate its occurring stress.

Stress affects the digestive system

Through this network of nerve connections, your big brain communicates stress to the intestinal nervous system. Besides butterflies, this “call” may disrupt the natural contraction rhythm of the gut that helps food pass through the body. In the long run, this disruption may result in gut hypersensitivity, which leaves an individual with irritable bowel syndrome or feeling more acid than usual, known as heartburn.

Stress affects the waistline

As stated earlier, cortisol is a hormone released when the body is stressed. As a result, it dramatically impacts the digestive system by telling your brain that you need to eat more energy-dense foods and carbs; hence, we crave comfort food when under loads of pressure. We’re blaming the tub of frosting on a rough break up or a much deserved “cheat meal” cheeseburger after a long week of dieting.

High levels of cortisol will increase our caloric intake (due to eating these foods in excess), causing visceral or deep belly fat, which does not help the body much! This fatty organ actively releases hormones and immune system chemicals known as cytokines. Higher cytokines put the hull in grave risk for chronic diseases like insulin resistance and heart disease.

Cortisol and the immune system

It’s easiest to think of the immune system as a billion little cells that travel through the bloodstream. Immune cells move in and out of tissues and organs, looking to defend against antigens (or foreign bodies) like germs, bacteria, viruses, and cancer cells.

When you are stressed, the immune system does not stand a good fight against antigens (which is why you may catch a cold easier when the pressure is on.) The stress hormone corticosteroid may suppress the immune system’s effectiveness by lowering the number of white blood cells, known as lymphocytes.

Lymphocyte and phagocyte are two types of immune cells. However, lymphocytes or white blood cells are the primary types of immune cells. There are two different types of lymphocytes: B-cells and T-cells. B-cells help produce antibodies to help destroy invading viruses and bacteria. T-cells lock onto infected cells, multiply and destroy it when an invader gets inside a cell.

Unhealthy habits don’t help

The immune system may become compromised if a person chooses to cope with stress in unhealthy behaviors, including smoking or drinking. It’s good to find other ways to deal with stress like exercise or talk therapy.

Conclusion

If you want to live a long life, you will need to want to kick chronic stress to the curb. What does this mean for you? You will always have a life filled with pressure. It’s an essential function of survival, but management matters. What’s important is how your brain tells your entire body to respond to tension – the connection! In the short-term, if you view each obstacle as an opportunity or challenge rather than a threat, you will be better off in the long run. Find something that you enjoy doing to manage your stress. You may like to exercise to release endorphins (feel-good hormones), deep breathing, or talking it out with a counselor. Revert back to our Directory to find some local recommendations. Whatever it may be, manage your stress for a happier, healthier life.

Next month, please look forward to an article about “Monkey Brain,” which explains what happens when your mind and body lack connection after the inability to cope with stress.

Here are other fantastic articles on what stress does to your body here: