Image of many people’s feet on a stone walkway, marching forward. Photo courtesy of Peter Theony via Creative Commons. 

When you think of exercise, the first thing that comes to mind is probably an activity like running, weight lifting, or biking. These are all wonderful and valuable ways to stay active; however, the unsung hero of the exercise world is walking. While I completely encourage any form of exercise, I’m going to be highlighting walking and why it is so helpful. It’s easy, refreshing, and free, you guys. Although pushing your limits in your personal fitness is a worthy endeavor, it can be difficult for people to get active at all. Walking is a great way to keep your body engaged and support your health without the pressure of a strict workout regimen. Additionally, not everyone is able to spend hours a week at a gym, and walking can be a functional and convenient way to fit exercise into your daily routine. 

I sat down with David Jaynes, a health and physical education teacher here at Franklin, to outline the merits of walking as exercise. When asked if he considers walking an exercise, he replied, “absolutely, […] I just think it’s a cultural thing where it’s […] looked down upon, but in reality, it’s a super useful thing to do […] I think culturally, we’re in a time where it’s not cool to post on your social media that you’re going for a two mile walk. It’s way cooler to be going to the gym and lifting a bunch of weights when [truly] a lot of people who just went for a mile walk every day would be significantly healthier than when they don’t.” Essentially, any exercise is always better than no exercise, and walking is as good as any other way to stay active. 

Many popular exercises require equipment such as weights or machines, which usually need to be paid for with a membership at a gym or purchasing the equipment. For many, the gym is inaccessible for this reason, or they simply don’t want to invest the money or time. One of the biggest selling points for walking is that it’s free, therefore much more accessible and low-pressure, which can inspire people to utilize it more often. 

I believe walking is often discounted because it isn’t high-impact. “It increases heart health, and cardiovascular wise, decreases blood pressure, can reduce the risk of type two diabetes, can strengthen bones and muscles in your legs if you’re walking for [a] longer distance, and depending on terrain,” said Jaynes when asked how walking can specifically aid physical health. He explained that although walking doesn’t build muscle like lifting weights would, “it’s definitely a great exercise tool.”

Mental health can also be improved from a nice walk– spending time outside acts as a de-stressor and as Jaynes puts it; “you’re getting vitamin D, you’re getting fresh air.” Vitamin D has been shown time and time again to improve mood and overall health, and can still be absorbed on a cloudy day (hello, Portland) so soak it up! I don’t know about you, but for me sometimes just taking a ten-minute walk around my neighborhood is enough to clear my head and get my body moving enough to reset and feel less overwhelmed. Walking also creates an opportunity to take in our surroundings and take a moment to ground ourselves, which can also be constructive for mental health.

Overall, walking is an excellent way to get out of the house and get some movement in a gentle, enjoyable way. One of my favorite ways to enjoy walking is to explore an unfamiliar neighborhood or part of town with some music on, just taking in what I see. I definitely recommend you try this, dear reader—it’s much more fun and interesting than it may sound. The activity is the same, but the setting can be one of your choice—you can aimlessly wander around the city or hike in Forest Park. I think that’s my favorite thing about walking: it’s free (monetarily and literally). 

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