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Walking To Lower Stress, Improve Mood, and Crush Pizza Cravings

Our ancestors walked between 12 and 20 miles daily. Now, between 12 and 2o thousand steps is a great day. 

On Sundays, when Kels and I go to Mellow Mushroom for $2 mimosas, I’m lucky if my Fitbit reads between 12 and 20 steps total to account for the few times I go to the urinal.

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My Sunday vices aside, one of my favorite activities is grabbing a cup of coffee, putting a good audiobook on my headphones, and walking down to Sugar House Park near my house.

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Walking is something that I recommend to every single one of my personal training clients as a part of their fat loss program. All of my clients should be walking between 30 and 60 minutes everyday. But many see it as a waste of time, or as additional exercise to be done, rather than leisurely walking through the park. 

They’re missing the point.

I’m not talking about a swift power walk. They’re required to leisurely walk (about a speed of 2.0 on a treadmill), preferably outside, 7 days a week. Typically, the people who lash out saying “who has time for that crap?!” are the people who need it the most. 

As my boy Jade Teta from Metabolic Effect says, “We don’t view walking as exercise, but rather a necessity.”

When we view it as a necessity, like brushing our teeth or taking a shower, we can begin to make time for it. And here’s why you should..

BENEFITS OF WALKING

When I lived in North Carolina, I was taught more about hormonal fat loss, nutrition, and lifestyle in a few weeks than most learn in a lifetime. Health and wellness is a bigger picture than simply adding broccoli, a protein shake, and Instagram followers #FitFam.

It’s more than calories-in verse calories-out. It’s also hormones, social connection, sleep, stress, and feeling a sense of purpose. That’s where the secret benefits of walking lie. It’s not so much that you’re going to shed calories as you’ll shed stress, hunger and cravings, and bad vibes. 

Leisurely walking has been shown to reduce the stress hormones cortisol. Cortisol is released when the body is under stress (physical or mental), and is meant to help us escape an attack by a saber tooth tiger. We spot the tiger, stress hormones are released into the bloodstream, so we can fight or flight-the-hell-out-of-there. Once we escape the sharp-toothed feline, we calm down and stress hormones return to normal. 

Now-a-days, there are no saber tooth tigers threatening to eat our face while we’re enjoying Eggs Benedict, but stress from work and school, bad dates, and endless to-do lists keep our cortisol levels high moment after moment, day after day.

This is a bad look. I’ll explain.

When cortisol levels stay too high, for too long, it causes us to lose muscle, store fat, and develop serious pizza cravings.

Taking a nice relaxing walk through Sugar House Park is just what we need to bring our stress hormones back to normal. This is the power of walking. It relaxes and lowers our stress hormone levels.

But wait, there’s more.. 

FOREST BATHING

The Japanese use the word “Shinrin-yoku,” which means “forest bathing.” No dude, not streaking through the forest with your Dove For Men; it roughly translates to “leisurely visit a forest.”

We can enhance the effects of our leisure walk if we head outside. Now that it is getting warmer here in Salt Lake City, I’ve been encouraging all of my clients to walk outdoors. Researchers show that being in nature, or merely looking at nature on your screen savor for five minutes, lowers levels of cortisol and blood pressure.

In her book The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal says, “Just five minutes of what scientists call “green exercise” [i.e. forest bathing] decreases stress, improves mood, enhances focus, and boosts self-control.”

Whoa. Just a 5-minute walk around the block can do wonders.

WALKNG DAILY

Walking daily, especially though nature, impacts your health on a hormonal level. It improves your mood, decreases your stress, lowers hunger, increases energy, improves sleep, and can help release fat from the fat cells. 

This, in turn, has a huge impact on your life. When you’re less hungry and have fewer cravings for pizza, it can lead to a shredded six pack. When your mood is improved, so is you dating life. And when you sleep better, stress less, and have more energy you’re more productive at work. 

Make walking a necessity. Do a 30 day challenge: can you make time for walking everyday for the next month? Try it, and see what happens. Even if you keep your Sunday mimosa habit, you’ll be sure to see improvements in your life.

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Sources:

  • Teta, Jade. “Two Changes to Your Walking Will Lower Cortisol Even More.” Metabolic Effect. N.p., 22 Apr. 2009. Web. <http://www.metaboliceffect.com/can-your-chosen-surroundings-help-you-burn-more-fat/>.
  • Teta, Jade. “Walking & Intense Training: Synergistic for Fat Loss.” Metabolic Effect. N.p., 21 May 2010. Web. <http://www.metaboliceffect.com/walking-intense-training-synergistic-for-fat-loss/>.
  • McGonigal, Kelly. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It. New York: Avery, 2012. Print.

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