“Walking is man’s best medicine.” – Hippocrates
I guess I’m a pretty good spokesperson for guilty non-exercisers. I exercise in jerks and starts, mostly sitting on my derriere but every once in a blue moon trying to behave like a seasoned outdoorswoman and failing miserably. This has to stop, because I, like nearly everyone, understand that movement is absolutely essential to bodily health. It strengthens muscles, including the heart, moves lymph, increases lung capacity, and the one that interests me the most: it can dramatically improve mood.
I found a great article in U.S. News and World Report about the mental health benefits of exercise. Here are some choice excerpts:
“Even 10 minutes of activity changes your brain.” – John Ratey, author Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.
“Working out also helps keep us from ruminating ‘by altering blood flow to those areas in the brain involved in triggering us to relive these stressful thoughts again and again,’ says study coauthor Elissa Epel, an associate professor of psychiatry at UCSF.”
“Research suggests that burning off 350 calories three times a week through sustained, sweat-inducing activity can reduce symptoms of depression about as effectively as antidepressants.”
“Exercise increases the level of brain chemicals called growth factors, which help make new brain cells and establish new connections between brain cells to help us learn.”
“Even mild activity like a leisurely walk can help keep your brain fit and active, fending off memory loss and keeping skills like vocabulary retrieval strong.”
Pretty impressive, especially when you consider the fact that the medications we use to treat mental health problems have such potentially serious side effects.
One day when I was much sicker than I am now, I decided to take a walk to try to shake off some of my brain fog and depression. I felt too weak to walk, but I set out anyway. I threw my shoulders back like I owned the world, took long strides, and breathed deeply. I’ll never forget how much better it made me feel. So why don’t I do that everyday? Okay, here come the excuses: the traffic on our road is dangerous and the diesel fumes make me choke, the only other place to walk is on the canal road which is nearly always drenched in herbicide and grows bumper crops of puncture weed which injure my dog’s feet, the neighbors dryer vents constantly spew forth a toxic cloud of “freshness”, and there are scary dogs. Deep breath… But I walked today anyway. See? That’s how writing heals. First you write something, then you have to do it or you’re a hypocrite.
But how does this fit? Simplicity of Wellness is, after all, an article about how love heals. How can exercise show love for the earth and its creatures? Aren’t the benefits mostly personal? No, because not only are walking and bike riding very good forms of exercise, they also happen to be great alternative forms of transportation, especially if you live in, or close to, a city. Obviously, fewer cars on the road means less pollution. Walking or biking instead of driving when possible is another win/win situation for both ourselves and the earth if we would only put it into practice. It’s another way we can show love for earth and all its creatures, including ourselves and our fellow humans.
I would love to become fit enough to walk all the way into town and back. It would help me to avoid having to drive so much, and it would do a world of good for my body. I hope you will join me. Lets move!