Most of us are interested in living a long life and aging healthfully. In our search for longevity, we take vitamins, antioxidants, herbs, supplements, and miracle foods to stay as young as possible for as long as possible.
In our search for the fountain of youth, the simplest way to age well is often overlooked—possibly because it is so simple, low tech, and not a pill or potion. That key to longevity is exercise.
In Chinese medicine, moderation is one of the tenets of living well, and this is true for exercise. You don’t need to run a marathon, bench press 200 pounds, or do a triathlon to get the benefits of exercise. I have seen dramatic results in my clinic with patients who simply began a modest walking program.
The benefits of walking are that it is easy to do, can be done almost anywhere, and demands very little in the way of equipment. In addition, the physical benefits are huge. Walking, and exercise in general, can relieve stress, help you control your weight, lower blood pressure, strengthen your heart, build muscle, and help you sleep better. In addition, the saying “Use it or lose it” applies here. If you don’t move your body regularly, you will lose the ability to do so as you age.
In terms of Chinese medicine, movement is essential to the smooth flow of energy. The flip side of smooth flow is stagnation, which is the source of an endless list of symptoms and illnesses from pain to depression.
Knowing how good walking is for you doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen. If you’re like many people, it takes a lot of momentum to get started and even more commitment to stick with it. Here are a few tips for you couch spuds who are ready to start walking to live longer, feel better, and be healthier:
-Start slowly. Any kind of change to your routine can be tough to implement, so begin with a plan that you can sustain. It may be just getting around your neighborhood for 15 minutes three days a week. That’s good enough to start; bump up your distance when you feel ready (your 15 minutes feels too easy).
-Move along. You will get the most benefits from walking if you keep up a good pace rather than strolling along. Swing your arms and move like you’re in a little bit of a hurry.
-Dress for success. Here in Minnesota, winter can be a huge deterrent to starting any kind of outdoor activity. However, by dressing in layers, you can be comfortable during the warmest days of summer or the coldest days of hinterland winter. In cold weather, the layering system traps a little air in between each layer, which ultimately keeps you warmer. In hot climates, layering allows you to protect yourself from the sun, and clothes can be peeled off if you get too hot.
-Buddy up. Walk with a friend, neighbor, or family member. Doing so will help you stay motivated. It’s hard to wimp out if you know your pal is waiting at the corner to walk with you.
-Get the right shoes. A comfortable pair of walking shoes is the only equipment you need to get started walking. You will need a pair of shoes that fit you well with good arch support. If you’re walking where it gets icy, get a pair of ice-biters; they’re stretchy rubber bands with metal cleats that attach to your shoes. They will dramatically cut down your chances of slipping on the ice.
-Take it inside. If it gets too cold, rainy, snowy, hot, etc. where you live, go to a large shopping mall and walk. Also, many cities open their sports arenas to walkers. If you have access to a treadmill, that’s a good indoor option as well.
-Cheers! Make sure you drink enough water, especially if you’re walking in hot weather, walking long distances, or if you work up a sweat.
-Keep it going. You’ll know that you’ve turned your walking program into a habit when you feel disappointed if you’re sidelined by really bad weather, illness, or injury.
Do something really nice for yourself today—go take a walk!