I was fortunate to spend this Independence Day hiking in Golden, Colorado. While delighting in our purple mountain majesties, I was reminded that taking frequent walks is one of the best strategies for maintaining independence as long as possible with age.
Mayo Clinic’s James Levine concluded that “sitting is the new smoking,” given his review of the devastating health risks of a sedentary lifestyle. Unfortunately, American cities and towns are generally set up to encourage driving, and those of us working desk jobs are seated for most of our waking hours. To counter this epidemic of inactivity, the Blue Zones Project has taken insights from places in the world with the highest numbers of centenarians and applied these lessons to create healthier communities in America. Among other interventions, the Blue Zone Project helps towns modify their designs to support walking.
Regular walking dramatically reduces your likelihood of developing chronic health problems that lead to disability and premature death by cleansing and nourishing your organs. Brisk walking can also prevent dementia. The brain generates extensive cellular waste and working up a good sweat helps clear it out and brings sustenance to your brain. Walking has also been shown to improve creativity. If you’re stuck on a problem at work, take a brain break by walking around the block or up and down the stairs before returning to your task refreshed.
Walking is even better for your health when it’s social. My husband’s uncle, John Baxter, will celebrate his 90th birthday this fall, and he has been hiking with the Santa Fe Chile and Marching Society for decades. Follow his Optimistic Aging example by creating your own walking / hiking group or search for one in your community on MeetUp.com. GirlTrek is an inspiring health and social justice movement for African-American women with walking groups all over the nation. In their moving TED talk, GirlTrek’s founders, Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison, explain that walking is a revolutionary act of self-care.
Make the most of the cooler summer evenings by taking a brisk walk, maybe even tonight before the fireworks. Happy July 4th!