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Walking for Mind, Body and Soul

    • When I was going through a difficult time in my life, I met with a counselor. Her words for me were "whatever you do, walk 20 minutes a day." At the time it seemed too simple, but I did what she suggested. I had no idea of the power of walking. It's good for the body, the soul, and even the environment. I believe those 30 (20?) minutes were the start of creating the healthy active lifestyle I have today. And now, as the Employee Wellness Coach for Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital, I often recommend the same assignment my counselor suggested to me many years ago.

      Walking has so many benefits that it is hard to believe that more people don’t take advantage of it. My counselor gave me the assignment as a way to reduce stress. It did that and so much more! Walking helps to maintain our physical health by keeping our joints limber, our hearts healthy, and our bones strong; it helps to maintain mental acuity and independence as we age, especially when you mix up your routine by choosing new or mentally stimulating routes; and it helps to reduce stress, which in turn reduces depression and anxiety.

      As with any change, it is important to start small and work up from there. There are so many small and easy ways to fit walking into your day. You’ve all heard of parking far away from your destination, but how about not taking your car at all? As opposed to most European countries where they walk for 25% of their urban trips, we in the United States only walk for 6%. The US Surgeon General recommends that walking for daily travel is an optimal way to increase activity and improve health. So, before you get in your car to run an errand, ask yourself “could I walk this?” For any trip of 2 miles or less, the answer should be “Yes!”

      Did you know that many leaders use walking to help them find answers to difficult questions, to be more creative, and to find new perspectives? Most successful people know that our attention span only lasts so long. By taking 10-15 minute walking breaks throughout the day, you can not only get the physical benefits, but you can increase your productivity and creativity. Try bringing a question, or a problem you are trying to solve to your walk and see what happens.

      For ultimate wellness, it is recommended that you walk at least 30, preferably 45-60, minutes at a moderate intensity at least 5 days a week. Unless you already have a consistent walking routine, it is not necessary to start this tomorrow. It’s important to set smaller goals that incrementally get you closer to this goal.

      For adding more time and more intensity, consider looking for a local walking group or creating one of your own. The accountability of belonging to a group is one of the best ways to stick with a new routine. Consider turning lunch dates into walking dates. Try walking during the first part of your lunch hour. It doesn’t matter what you do as long as you do it. Check out your local running/walking store, community recreational centers and local gyms for walking groups and other resources.

      If you are ready for a challenge, one of the most fulfilling ways to start a walking program is to do it for a cause. Groups such as the Avon Walk, Leukemia & Lymphoma’s Society’s Team in Training, and the March of Dimes Walk will provide you with training options, a team, support, and so much more. By signing up for one of these groups you are committing to training for an event which can range from 5k or 10k to ½ or full marathon. In return you agree to fundraise for the cause. There is no better feeling than crossing the finish line, surrounded by hundreds of others like you, knowing that you’ve done something good for yourself as well as for others.

      Since that day many years ago, I incorporate many of the above suggestions into my life and support my clients to do the same. From just starting to walk 20 minutes a day, I have seen clients lose weight, become inspired to finish fundraising walks ranging in distance from 5k to 2-days, I have seen them reduce their stress and increase their energy and so much more. All from just starting to walk 20 minutes a day. It happened for me, it happened for them, and it can happen for you.

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