A little poem I wrote in my 20s still holds true today:
A Walk, Just a Walk
A walk, just a walk, without destination, not hampered by unhappiness, or pressured by time.
A walk, just a walk, that exercised thought, shared a smile, and amused a pup.
A walk, just a walk, that awakened memory, revealed reality, and nourished budding dream.
A walk, just a walk.
By Marguerite Jill Dye
Hippocrates, the Greek physician widely regarded as the “father of medicine,” was right: “Walking is man’s best medicine.”
Walking is one of the few pleasures in life that is also very good for us. It lowers stress and bad cholesterol, strengthens and enlarges the brain, enhances creativity, and helps to lose weight. Walking tones muscles, including the heart, improves breathing and lung function. It lowers blood pressure and the chance of encountering a stroke or diabetes risk. It increases serotonin (which elevates mood), as well as HDL (good cholesterol). Walking just 21 minutes per day cuts the risk of heart disease by 31 percent and saves over $100 billion in America’s health care costs, according to Harvard Medical School. After age 40, 75 minutes of brisk walking per week extends life expectancy 1.8 years; 150-299 minutes per week adds 3.4 years; 450 minutes of vigorous walking per week adds 4.5 years and up to 7.2 years for those with a healthy body-mass index, according to studies by the U.S. National Cancer Institute (consumer.healthday.com).
Interval walking – alternating between a normal and faster pace a few times during a walk – burns more calories and helps build cardiovascular endurance. A University of Virginia women’s fitness study found that three shorter, fast-paced walks each week burned five times more belly fat than five strolls a week. Another important benefit of high intensity exercise (which includes walking at a fast pace) is that it burns three times more visceral fat – the dangerous fat around vital organs that’s linked to heart disease and diabetes.
Every May for the past seven years my husband Duane and I have joined the Walk Your A.S. Off Walkathon, a virtual walk all over the world. My niece Jennifer Dye Visscher helped create this endeavor, where participants walk wherever they are, improving their own health and raising awareness of a little-known disease that 33 million people suffer from.
Ankylosing spondylitis (A.S.) is so little-known that people spend years without diagnosis or proper treatment. It is a progressive, inflammatory form of arthritis that affects the spine primarily. Movement is essential to help slow the progression.
Should you accept the challenge to Walk Your A.S. Off, you’ll improve your own health while helping others. Join a team or form your own at walkyourasoff.com. Each step you take in the month of May will be tallied with other walkers from across the globe. A pedometer or iPhone health app measures your steps quite easily. Just submit your weekly steps online to add to the global grand step total. Your dog’s steps count too on Team PAWS for Our Cause.
“All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking,” said Friedrich Nietzsche, German philosopher.
There’s nothing quite like taking a walk to change a perspective or create a distraction. Walking is so very versatile. It comes in all speeds and sizes: a tailor-made walk can stretch out the back or lift a human from gloom. An added delight is to walk in Vermont, most certainly a feast for the senses: crusty snow crunching beneath snow boots, splashing spring puddles of mud, soft carpets of moss and purple vetch, and flamboyant fluttering leaves in the fall.
“Above all do not lose your desire to walk every day. I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts and I know of no thought so burdensome that one can not walk away from it,” said Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.
Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who divides her time between the Green Mountains of Vermont and Florida’s Gulf Coast.