Walking for Body, Mind, and Spirit
If you were to follow only one exercise, I would recommend doing more of something you already do every day-walking. The human body is made for walking, and I am convinced it is the best overall exercise for human health and wellbeing. Unfortunately, we don’t walk as much as people used to, preferring instead to drive cars and sit behind computer screens. But if you find a way to add a few more steps into your day, you will take great leaps toward improving your overall sense of health and wellbeing.
For the Body
First of all, walking is great for the body. Many different sets of muscles are used, and the cardiovascular system is given a good workout. Furthermore, the joints are moved, helping to keep them limber, and the lymphatic system is stimulated, allowing lymph to circulate effectively, by the motion and bounce of the human gate.
A number of studies have confirmed that walking is great exercise. In one study, a group of 171 middle-aged, overweight people were asked to walk for just 30 minutes six days a week. Of these people, 41% already demonstrated lifestyle related health issues, such as unhealthy cholesterol readings, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar, which suggest that these people were headed toward serious health problems in the future. By the end of the eight month study, that number of people with these sorts of problems dropped to 27%. In addition, all of the study participants lost weight, while those in a control group gained additional weight.
Walking is also great for the mind. You probably have already noticed this if you have ever taken a walk when you are feeling stressed. Walking has a way of helping us return to a calm, centered state.
From a certain perspective, you can think of walking as a form of meditation. Walking is rhythmical, providing a constant beat with every step, and therefore mimics the effect of a mantra that one would repeat in meditation. It also provides a way to become aware of the rhythm and depth of your breath, which can help to deepen the meditative effects of walking. To enhance these effects, try to be very mindful as you walk, noticing all the details of your posture and movement.
Again, science confirms the benefits of walking for the mind. Several studies have confirmed that walking can help people avoid or improve the symptoms of depression, and others have shown that older adults who walk maintain better mental acuity and memory. And because the act of walking uses many brain functions simultaneously, it a great brain exercise for people of any age.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, walking is great for the spirit. It makes you feel alive and positive about your place in the world. For me, walking is symbolic of the human connection between heaven and earth because we walk with our head toward the heavens and our feet on the ground.
To enhance the soul-lifting aspect of walking, I recommend taking some time to walk in nature. When we walk outdoors, we are reminded of our connection to all things as we breathe in the same air as the trees and walk on the same ground as the animals. Don’t forget to stop and look up at the sky, or to feel the texture of a rock, or notice the smell of the grass. Take some time to really absorb the beauty of this world and to feel gratitude for all that is, for this is the true meaning of spirituality.
Walking packs huge health punch, study confirms. Reuters Health. December 17, 2007. Atkinson, Mallory, and Lynn Weigland. A Review of Literature: The Mental Health Benefits of Walking and Bicycling. Portland State University. June, 2008 Melnick, Meredith. “Study: Walking Is a Brain Exercise, Too.” Time. October 14, 2010.
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