Eight ways a daily walk will improve your health

When it comes to physical activity, don’t undervalue the incredible health benefits of a daily walk. Research tells us that there are health benefits to exercise — even periods as short as a few minutes. It also reveals that these benefits are increased when we get moving outdoors. You don’t need a gym membership or the latest in gizmos and gadgets to improve your physical and mental fitness, you just need some comfy shoes and the determination to make it happen.

Here are just a few of the benefits of a daily walk:

  1. You’ll boost your spirits: There’s no need to pound away stress: a brisk daily walk will do the trick! It turns out that exercise is so beneficial for our mental health, that it’s considered as effective in treating anxiety and mild to moderate depression as many medications — and without the side effects.
  2. You’ll reduce your risk of diabetes: Walking can lower your blood sugar levels as well as your overall risk for diabetes.
  3. Improved blood pressure: Researchers at the University of Boulder Colorado and the University of Tennessee determined  regular walking reduced blood pressure by as much as 11 points and may in fact reduce the risk of stroke by 20 percent to 40 percent.
  4. Longevity: Mounting evidence suggests walking can reduce your risk of mortality. A study using data from over 334,000 people in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer Nutrition (EPIC) concludes that adding just a 20-minute daily walk to an otherwise sedentary lifestyle, reduces the risk of death by 7 percent.
  5. Weight management: While many experts suggest weight loss is more effectively accomplished by way of a healthy diet and responsible caloric intake, exercise helps torch extra calories and can rev up metabolism so that we burn even more calories even while at rest.  Exercise is also an effective tool in helping us to maintain a healthy weight throughout life — and yes, walking counts!
  6. Stronger bones: Bone density is built in part through weight-bearing exercise like walking, and strong bones can help prevent osteoporosis and the related fractures commonly seen in older adults. Each time you lace up your running shoes or venture outdoors for a brisk walk, remind yourself of the incredible benefits of exercise.
  7. A healthier heart: A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that people who walk at least five times a week for 30 minutes or more had a 30 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, compared with those who did not walk on a regular basis. Need we say more? Click here to learn more about reducing your risk of heart disease.
  8. Creativity: Numerous studies link walking with improved creativity and ideation and helping to reduce or eliminate brain fog. Don’t be surprised if on a walk you find yourself full of good ideas, creative solutions, new approaches, and the energy to put them to work.

Build your resilience in 10 steps

We all face trauma, adversity and other stresses throughout our lives. There are ways however, that can help us adapt to life-altering situations and emerge even stronger than before. Resilience is an “inner strength” that helps us bounce back from stressful situations such as setbacks and difficult events in our lives, including illness.

Developing resilience begins with simple actions or thoughts that can be practiced, including what you’ll do next and learning to accept change. There are many aspects of your life you can control, but by becoming more resilient, you’ll be better equipped to cope with those you can’t.

Being resilient doesn’t mean that you find it easy to deal with difficult or stressful situations or that you won’t feel angry, sad, or worried during tough times. But it does mean that you won’t feel as overwhelmed and that you’ll be more likely to cope with stressful situations in healthy ways.

Here are 10 ways to build resilience:

  1. Change the narrative: When something bad happens, we often relive the event over and over in our heads, rehashing the pain. This process is called rumination. To ease up on rumination, try letting go of what you cannot control; schedule a worry break; try practicing mindfulness; identify your worst-case scenario and ask yourself if you can handle it; get some exercise.
  2. Face your fears: Fear and anxiety are like kidnappers holding you captive, and away from the full life you could be living. For tips on facing your fears, click here.
  3. Build connections: Connecting with empathetic and understanding people can remind us that we’re not alone. Build your relationships with family, friends, colleagues and groups in your community.
  4. Practice self-compassion: Fears and adversity can make us feel alone and leave us asking what is wrong with us. In these situations, practicing self-compassion—and knowing that everyone suffers—can be helpful. Practicing self compassion involves confronting our own suffering with an attitude of kindness and without judgment. Give yourself permission to be less than perfect; remind yourself that you are not alone; practice mindfulness; and practice self care.
  5. Meditate: Our most painful thoughts are usually about the past or the future. Practicing mindfulness brings us more and more into the present, and it offers techniques for dealing with negative emotions when they arise.
  6. Cultivate forgiveness: If holding a grudge is holding you back, research suggests that cultivating forgiveness could be beneficial to your mental and physical health.
  7. Take care of your body. Self-care is a legitimate practice for mental health and building resilience. That’s because stress is just as much physical as it is emotional. Promoting positive lifestyle factors like ample sleep, good nutrition, and daily exercise will help your body to adapt to stress and reduce the burden of anxiety or depression. Here are 15 healthy lifelong habits.
  8. Practice mindfulness. Mindful journaling, yoga, and other spiritual practices like meditation can also help people build connections and find hope. I like to start and end each day with gratitude.
  9. Help others. When you volunteer or extend help to others, you can garner a sense of purpose, foster self-worth, connect with other people and foster resilience.
  10. Embrace healthy thoughts. a) Keep things in perspective. How you think can play a significant part in how you feel — and how resilient you are when faced with obstacles. Try to identify areas of irrational thinking, such as a tendency to catastrophize difficulties. b) Accept change… it’s part of life. Certain goals or ideals may no longer be realistic and accepting this will help you move on to new goals and things you can alter. c) Maintain a hopeful outlook. It’s hard to be positive when life isn’t going your way, but an optimistic outlook empowers and opens you to expect good things that will come. d) Learn from your past. By looking back at who or what was helpful in previous times of distress, you may be able to alter how you respond to new difficult situations.

Self care strategies you need right now

With the arrival of COVID-19, and as we practice social distancing and isolation measures, it’s important to consider self care. You have to take care of yourself in order to properly take care of others… and yes, even the little things can make a big difference. Try some or all of these tried and true strategies to show yourself a little love on a daily basis.

  1. Enjoy a long, hot soak in the tub or a soothing shower – Treat yourself to a daily bath or shower with subtly scented products that promote relaxation.
  2. Spend time reading – lose yourself in a good book for a while each day — or keep your brain sharp by devoting a few minutes a day to learning a new language.
  3. Check in on others – by phone or using technology. Banish isolation for yourself and others by staying connected.
  4. Get fit virtually – take time to stay active and fit by following an online fitness class or enjoying a walk or run.
  5. Send notes of appreciation and thanks – make someone’s day by sending them a note of appreciation, recognition or thanks.
  6. Take a break from the news – the news cycle repeats itself over and over again in a 24-hour period, so checking in on headlines once or twice a day should give you your fill.
  7. Meal prep – look out a few recipes and cook up a storm, prepping meals to enjoy now, freeze for later, or to drop off (at the door as we practice distancing) of friends in need, grandparents, etc. Many people find cooking and baking relaxing activities that promote self-nurturing and caring for others.
  8. Dance – no explanation needed here. Just press play on some tunes of your choice and start moving. Physical activity benefits our physical and mental health. It all counts, so even a few minutes a few times a day offers health benefits.
  9. Get creative and crafty – now’s a good time to pick up a musical instrument you’ve ignored, or to get crafty with craft supplies, to return to knitting, to do some creative writing, or do get creative your way.
  10. Get a little extra sleep – even an extra 20-30 minutes a night or a short cat-nap can leave us feeling refreshed and better able to cope. Learn more.
  11. Practice mindfulnesseven just 20 minutes a day can leave you feeling refreshed, present, and in control.
  12. Spend time in nature – spending time in nature leads to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower blood pressure, and a lower pulse rate. Right now, due to social distancing guidelines, you’re best to enjoy nature on your own or only with those in your household.
  13. Do a digital detox – There are health benefits to going tech-free for a portion of each day… so unplug and enjoy life in the slow lane more often.
  14. Hug those you love – hugs offer all sorts of health benefits… so does a cuddle with a cherished dog or cat – but only with those you’re at home with and only if you’re all healthy. Once we’re through the COVID-19 social distancing measures, you’ll be able to hug more freely. Don’t forget that you can also send virtual hugs!
  15. Breathe deeplymeditation and mindfulness offer well-documented health benefits—including reducing anxiety and depression, according to a 2014 study in JAMA Internal Medicine.
  16. Learn more about conquering stress – I wrote about some simple tools (here) that can help.
  17. Ask for help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, share your burden with someone you trust and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Good reasons to move your exercise routine outdoors

With the arrival of spring, not to mention COVID-19, it’s time to make changes to your exercise routine. Some people are content to exercise indoors at home, while others already know, or will soon discover, that exercising outdoors offers a multiple of options and benefits.

A Scottish Health Survey (2008) of 2,000 active participants found that outdoor physical activity had a 50 percent more positive effect on mental health than exercising at the gym. The researchers also found that walking, running, biking, and other outdoor activities, particularly in a green space, also reduced stress. I’m a big believer in a daily dose of ‘Vitamin N’ (nature) in all seasons, which is why I opt to exercise outdoors several times a week.

Compared with indoor exercise, being active outdoors is also associated with increased energy, and decreased tension, confusion, anger, and depression — feelings that so many Canadians are experiencing as we follow social distancing guidelines amidst the Corona virus pandemic. Best of all, participants from a number of additional studies reported they were more likely to repeat outdoor activity at a later date.

Here are some of the additional benefits to outdoor exercise:

  1. Outdoor physical activity is often more strenuous than indoor exercise. In studies comparing running on a treadmill with running outdoors, treadmill users expended less energy to cover the same distance as those striding outside. What makes the difference? Small changes affiliated with exercising outdoors… things like wind resistance and changes in terrain.
  2. A few small studies have also found that those who exercise outdoors have lower blood levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress, than those who exercise indoors.
  3. In a number of recent studies, volunteers were asked to take two daily walks for the same time or distance — one indoors on a treadmill or track, the other outdoors. In every study, the volunteers reported enjoying the outdoor exercise more, and scored higher on measures of vitality, enthusiasm, and enjoyment, while also reporting reduced fatigue and depression and tension..
  4. Enjoyment may be the most important reason to exercise outdoors and make it easier to commit to doing so regularly. With only a small fraction of Canadian adults active enough for their health, the prevalence of indoor gyms don’t appear to be changing behaviour.
  5. When we exercise outdoors, we create vitamin D3, which is important to bone health and metabolic function. Research tells us that exposure to sunlight during the day can help us sleep better at night, improve immune function, and increase feel-good hormones circulating throughout our bodies. Nonetheless, it is important to think prevention and to protect your skin from sun damage.

Easy ways to be active outdoors include: gardening and yard work, walking, running, hiking, cycling, skateboarding, active games and play with the kids (from games of Hopscotch, to jumping rope, to playing basketball). Right now it’s prudent to avoid outdoor gyms and group exercise.