By Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc.
As fall’s cooler weather begins to set in and days become shorter, most of us are probably not as active as we were during summer months. Seasonal activity slows down and so does our metabolism — leading to winter weight gain and a strain on cardiovascular health. During the fall and winter, our bodies need exercise more than ever and walking is an excellent choice for a healthy activity. In fact, research suggests it just might be your best move.
Walking offers gentle exercise, keeping our systems running smoothly without the overexertion and stress of other high-powered activities such as jogging or competitive sports. And the calmer rhythm found in walking, especially walking in nature, has been shown to offer support for the overall health of our bodies, minds and spirits. In fact, some fascinating research has emerged regarding the new — and very ancient — science of “earthing.”
Modern Science — Ancient Practice
Earthing is the practice of walking barefoot on the earth, grass, sand — anywhere your feet are in contact with the Earth’s surface ground — not asphalt or pavement. Published studies on earthing show that electrons on the Earth’s surface offer numerous health benefits, including:
- Increased antioxidant protection
- Reduced inflammation
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Reduced blood viscosity
- Reduced pain
- Cortisol and hormone balance
- More restful sleep
- Other benefits
These peer-reviewed studies published in scientific journals point to a very real phenomenon that may have represented the road to good health for our ancestors.
Walking And Cancer
If you don’t want to walk barefoot on the Earth, it’s OK — you can still gain significant benefits from walking. Numerous studies show that simple walking, when done daily, can reduce the risk of breast, colon and other cancers, and help improve clinical outcome in these active conditions. Plus, it has long been known that regular exercise can improve risk factors for many serious health issues, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity and more.
And now researchers are saying you don’t have to be an athlete to derive a health boost from physical activity. Regular, moderate exercise can provide just as many health benefits by improving oxygenation, circulation, immune response and the flushing of toxins, while relieving stress and tension.
Really, it’s not so much about the walking, per se, but the movement. We find that any movement can help support long-term health, whether it’s dance, yoga or even support groups, which can create movement between people. Foods, herbs and supplements that promote healthy circulation and cardiovascular health are critical adjuncts in any integrative health care program.
Sometimes, however, people who perform high-powered exercises and engage in active, competitive sports do not experience the same healthy rewards. Why not? While these high-intensity activities are known to increase wear and tear on our bodies, there may be other reasons at work.
When we engage in high-stress, goal-driven activities, we are not really allowing ourselves to be present in the moment, and thus we’re not allowing the movement to really benefit us.
The Secret Benefits of A Daily Walk
On the other hand, when we are walking, particularly in nature, we are generally not trying to achieve anything. It’s more about being present in the process. When we walk in nature, there is an ongoing exchange between us and our surroundings which offers great healing on its own.
Walking also creates a rhythm which we can follow effortlessly. Through this physical rhythm, we may also experience an emotional rhythm. When we walk, “hidden” feelings and thoughts often come up and we have a chance to process them. There is also a psychological rhythm and a sense of well-being, a certain rhythmic expansion that happens when you walk enough. This can be partly attributed to the endorphins released by even moderate exercise. But there’s a deeper and more subtle process of healing that also occurs. The walking, because it’s rhythmic and repetitive, allows for the release of physical, emotional and psychological energies that may have been stored over time.
What ties it all together is the breathing. As we walk, we naturally start breathing deeper. It’s a good idea (and sometimes this happens on its own without our awareness), to start synchronizing our steps with our breathing. You’ll notice that inhalation/exhalation becomes more even and flows more smoothly. When we are running, it’s hard to do this because we’re moving fast. Rhythmic breathing encourages our healing capacities to arise and expand.
With walking, we can synchronize the movement of the body, the movement of the breath and the movement of the mind through emotions, feelings and thoughts. This is really the power of such a simple exercise, where walking becomes more than just walking.
It becomes a profound and harmonizing therapy which helps to balance us on all levels — body, mind and spirit.