Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS
What if I told you that there was a form of exercise ready-made for the new reality of coronavirus lockdown?
And what if I told you that same form of exercise also happens to lower the risk of depression, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer?
Oh, and if that weren’t enough, this form of exercise also grows new brain cells.
Research by Arthur Kramer at the University of Illinois has shown that 45-60 minutes of this particular exercise produced increases in the volume of both white matter (neurons, or ‘computational units’) and grey matter (axons, or ‘interconnections’).(1)
Interested? Of course you are.
Now I should warn you – this form of exercise isn’t sexy, or trendy, or high-tech at all. And it’s certainly not exclusive or expensive – almost every person can do it and the only equipment you need is a pair of shoes!
But it is unquestionably the best “exercise investment” you can make – it has the least amount of risk and the most amount of return. In fact, if this form of exercise were a stock, buying it would guarantee you at least 100% return on investment.
The exercise? Walking.
Walking has been shown in peer-reviewed research to lower the risk for every disease I mentioned earlier, and a few I didn’t. (2,3,4) To sum it up quickly, walking makes you healthier.
And healthier people have healthier immune systems.
In fact, one study followed 1,000 adults during flu season and found that those who walked – even at a moderate pace – for about 30-45 minutes a day had an astonishing 43% fewer sick days and fewer infections of the upper respiratory tract. They also had less severe symptoms when they did get sick, especially compared to sedentary controls.(5)
And it’s not Just Physical…
The benefits of walking don’t end with its effect on your overall health, metabolism and immunity, though even if they did it would still be worth doing! There are enormous psychological benefits as well.
And as you’re learning, your mindset – the things you think about and your state of inner peace and balance – have profound effects on the functioning of the immune system.
There is an entire science called ecopsychology that studies the effect being outdoors – especially around greenery – has on both mental and physical health. And what an effect it has!
Studies have demonstrated that exposure to greenery lowers a number of important health risk metrics (like blood pressure and cortisol levels) as well as reducing number of doctors visits and number of sick days. (6)
Greenery seems to be universally linked in the human brain to renewal, calm surroundings, new beginnings and peace. It’s no accident that every television studio in America has a room where the guests who are about to appear are invited to wait. That room is always called “the “green room”.
The perfect way to get the health benefits of walking and the psychological benefits of greenery is to walk outdoors. Which, as it turns out, is perfect for our times.
According to Dr. David Agus – one of the smartest doctors in America – the benefits of exercising and being outdoors (i.e. walking) far outweigh any coronavirus risks if you take the necessary precautions.(7)
I recommend wearing a mask while walking outdoors, but leaving your mouth and nose uncovered when you’re at least 10 feet away from another person. When approaching or walking past other people, just pull the mask up and leave it up till you’re 10 or more feet away. When you’re not near anyone else, there’s no need to wear a mask. The virus is not a long-distance swimmer!
I do recommend wearing gloves at all times, though, and tossing them the second you re-enter your house.
Walks are not only healthy for your body, they’re calming for your mind.
And at a time like this, a dose of “calm” is exactly what the doctor ordered.