Better Health With Simple Movements

By Jessica Campbell, MS, FNTP

One of the things I love about NYC is how much people walk. Without even trying, I log roughly 13,000-15,000 steps a day that I would otherwise normally spend in my car. We walk to the market, and up a few flights to work. We walk up the stairs to our apartment, and back down to the basement for dance rehearsal. We walk endless stairs to the tracks of the subway, 30 blocks with a friend to enjoy the High Line city park, and a few more to find our favorite cafe. It’s a walking culture that defines your legs and naturally develops leaner bodies. 

When I first moved to the Bay Area in CA I wanted a house that was close enough to downtown, close enough to the train, and close enough to a park that we could walk to. I knew that the walking I had done while living in NY was so different from growing up in rural California. Redwood City was my first introduction to living in a suburb and the main difference I find is the lack of walking. 

 

The Many Benefits of Walking!

 

During quarantine the walking picked back up. Friends felt more safe walking side by side, we felt trapped in our homes and needed to break free, and many of our driving destinations were closed to the public. Although many people are now complaining about gaining the “COVID - 20” (in pounds), we have every opportunity to attenuate this by continuing with a walking culture.

 

No matter where my clients live, I hear about lovely walks to the park, walks through mountain trails, walks by neighborhood gardens, even walks to a local restaurant for pick up. With the amount of scientific literature that validates how drastically you can increase your health with a daily walk, we have no reason to let go of this healthy activity. 

 

Daily Dose of Vitamin D

 

Another reason I love walking is the excuse to get outside in the fresh air and soak up Vitamin D from the sunshine. Vitamin D is essential for our health and we often don’t talk about the importance of finding natural sources of this nutrient! Vitamin D Deficiency is common in adults and children all over the world which has been emphasized in much of the immune studies related to COVID-19 and poor outcomes. Very few foods have naturally occurring Vitamin D so the only real natural way to get enough vitamin D is to be outside for 15-20 minutes every day with some skin exposed to the ultraviolet rays. The sun does not contain vitamin D, but our skin converts cholesterol into vitamin D when exposed to the ultraviolet rays. It’s a pretty amazing process!

 

Walking to De-Stress

 

It’s not only about walking, and I’m sure you’re aware of this. We are getting busy again and I hear it in the voices during consultations. The stress of our complicated lives is creeping back in. I discuss how to de-stress in the last article about self-care, but walking is the low hanging fruit. It’s safe, it’s actively burning calories, it’s meditative to release stress, and it’s available to most. A simple walk  can help reduce your stress while burning calories so it’s a win-win activity. One of the dancers I’m working with in NYC said, “during quarantine I didn't want to use public transportation so I just walked everywhere and knew it would take me an extra half hour.” 

 

Are you reverting back to over-scheduling again? Consider that you could walk and give yourself that extra down time. Let’s use the wisdom we have gathered in our quarantine to slow down and not over book ourselves into a frenzied schedule that demands racing from point A to point B.

 

A Walking Challenge

 

In light of our need for sunshine, and a chance to de-stress, I challenge you to walk this summer. If this is new for you, try a simple challenge, or if you’re a seasoned walker, try kicking it up a notch. If you’re anything like me, it takes repetition to create new habits.

 

  • Walk for 30 minutes 30 days in a row
  • Walk for 45 minutes 45 days in row
  • Walk for 60 min 60 days in a row
  • At least walk 15 min a few times each day 

 

Walk to your friends house for a drink so nobody has to drive home, walk to the restaurant with your family so everyone gets an after dinner stroll, walk to the market for that last minute item, or at least try parking at the back of the parking lot and walking through that extra bit.

 

One of my mentors, Sean Croxten says, “little by little, a little becomes a lot... Things have a way of adding up when you embrace small steps…”. I couldn't agree more!

 

Why Simple Movement Is Important

 

We only need the workouts to release stress and toxins, pump the cardiac muscle, flush the lungs, burn calories, and feel good about ourselves. All of this can be attained with consistent daily walking, and it can often  be more effective than an intense workout. 

 

It should be noted that one intense workout a week can not make up for 6 days of inactivity and is actually more stressful on your body and nervous system. I was reminded of this through a recent article from Chris Kresser. In his article he reminds us of the dangers of prolonged sitting and how small changes can change everything!

 

If you have a job that requires you to sit at a desk, commute in a car, and evening activities that include sitting on the sofa, you may be sitting for most of your waking hours. Unfortunately, it’s been said that “sitting is the new smoking.” Sitting was never done at such high rates, but now it is a serious threat to the health of many people.

 

Prolonged sitting can lead to problems in your arteries in your legs (like blockage in the blood flow). However, the good news is that studies show  frequent little breaks where you participate in aerobic or simple resistance activities can almost eliminate those risks! 

 

Taking 2 minute breaks where you stand and move every hour is a great way to break up those long seated days. I use an app on my phone to give me reminders to stand and move and I know many phones and smartwatches have similar helpful apps. While you're standing, take a moment to stretch in one or all of the following ways. 

  • Open up your chest by rolling back your shoulders and take some deep breaths to stretch the rib cage. This can ease the hunch of your back and make more space for your lungs to expand and breathe deeply.
  • Roll your wrists for a  few circles in both directions and stretch your fingers up and down to combat the typing fatigue.
  • Move your legs to increase blood flow, make you uncross your legs, flex and point your toes, and roll your ankles in circles in both directions.
  • Stretch your neck by gently moving your head right and left as if you were saying “no” exaggerated in slow motion, then stretch up and down like a giant “yes” nod, and finally make little half circles by leaning your ear to your shoulder, letting your chin roll to your chest, and then back up to your other ear to other shoulder.
  • When you finish, plant both feet evenly on the floor, lift your spine as long as you can from sitting in the chair to the top of your head and try to use your abdominal muscles to hold this position as long as you can. 

 

Other Types Of Simple Movement

 

The stretches above are a great start, and addition to your work hours, but the more mindful movement the better. Remember, it can be gentle and calm, just think about the race of the tortoise and hare. What I see in the research is that the tortoise is winning the race of avoiding heart disease and life threatening cardiac events. Here are some more healthy ideas you can add to your daily movement if walking is not your cup of tea.

 

  • Try Yoga  (Check out my free yoga videos here!) 10min, 15min, and 20min options for beginners
  • Try a Tai Chi class or Qigong in the park
  • Get outside and do some Gardening
  • Go for a hike in nature and invite a friend
  • Dig out that old Wii and play a few active games. Exercise doesn’t have to be boring, it can be playful!
  • Take a friend or partner Ballroom Dancing, Salsa Dancing, or have a dance party in your living room 
  • Swim a few laps in the pool, the lake, the river, or the ocean
  • Take a leisurely bike ride or rollerblade around your neighborhood
  • Schedule a tee time to go Golfing
  • Find a silly activity that makes you laugh for a good session of belly laughing

 

My goal  is not to add another stressor to your life, but to add balance to the stress you experience every day. If you already have a stressful job, doing an intense HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout may not help in the long run. Instead, look for everyday activities that keep your body moving and let your mind unwind.

 

Relax, don't take life too seriously, go out with a friend, and enjoy some fun!