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Sunday, May 31, 2020
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Our Daily Walk

Question:  What's free and easy and probably the best medicine a Boomer can take?
Answer:  A daily walk.

       Walking has so many benefits for adults Boomer age and beyond.  It may even prolong our lives! 

     It doesn’t matter if we walk on a treadmill, on a track at the fitness center or around the block, study after study is showing that the simple act of walking can have a profound positive impact on our bodies and our minds. 


     Type II Diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions in our country and among our age group. There are varying opinions as to why...the general increase in weight of the average American, over-processed foods, too much consumption of fast food and high fructose corn syrup, a sedentary lifestyle…all these are no doubt contributors. Yet, medical studies promise that for Boomers who are borderline or pre-Diabetic, the disease can be avoided with a few changes in diet and equally as important, regular exercise.

     According to a George Washington University study, just 15 minutes of walking at a moderately brisk pace helped to control the usual after-dinner blood sugar spike and had the added benefit of maintaining a lower blood sugar for 24 hours afterwards. Walking helps our bodies use insulin more efficiently not only when we are actively exercising, but also when we are at rest due to increased muscle development and strength.  In other words, we become more efficient metabolic engines.

     An added benefit occurs for those of us with sugar cravings. Research in Austria has shown that just 15 minutes of walking can curb sugar cravings by stimulating the brain in a way that interferes with those cravings.

     According to the American Heart Association (A.H.A.), regular walking reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, lowers the risk of heart attack, lowers blood pressure and even improves lipid profiles. 

     A recent study by researchers at Lawrence Berkley National laboratory, Life Science Division in Berkley, Ca. found that walking is just as beneficial as running when the same distance is covered. Researchers analyzed 33,060 runners in the National Runners’ Health Study and 15,045 walkers in the National Walkers’ Health Study. They found that the energy used for moderate- intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running resulted in similar reductions in risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and possibly coronary heart disease over the study’s six years. (American Heart Association, heart.org) This surprising study is a boon for Boomers who thought they weren’t getting benefits from exercise if they didn’t do it at the same level they did in their twenties, thirties and forties. It seems that when it comes to the heart, slow and steady wins the race just as successfully as crossing the finishing line first.

     The A.H.A. has a great website, www.startwalkingnow.org offering free resources such as a walking tracker, how to find or start a walking club, where to find walking paths and other links to diet and lifestyle recommendations.


     Back pain is a common problem for many Baby Boomers, and walking may be the key to significant relief. As anyone who has had physical therapy for back pain knows, one goal is to strengthen supporting back and abdominal muscles and ease tension. A recent study by researchers in Tel Aviv and published in the journal Clinical Rehabilitation found that regular walking resulted in the same benefits as specialized exercises for back pain, with the added benefit of improved overall health and fitness. In many cases, a combination of walking and specialized therapy results in a reduced need for pain meds or further more invasive treatments such as back surgery.

     Walking eases back pain because it stimulates the brain to release serotonin and endorphins (neurotransmitter chemicals that make you feel better physically and mentally). Walking also blocks pain through distraction…an effect known as the “gate control theory” of pain. According to this theory, when we work the big muscle groups in the legs and body which have correspondingly large nerves, the signals fired to the brain literally overload pain messages coming from smaller nerves.

     One of the most reliable treatments for anxiety is a daily walk. Stress is reduced when the body produces feel-good chemicals associated with exercise that counter-balance stress hormones. A Temple University study of menopausal and post-menopausal women over eight years found that the more they walked, the less stress, anxiety and depression they experienced during and after menopause. Walking has even been shown to be a great adjunct treatment for clinical depression with some studies suggesting that a regular walking or biking program leads to lower remission rates than is achieved through medication.

     In addition, walking tends to improve self- image and self-esteem, improves brain performance, may reduce cognitive decline, sharpens memory, helps in the control of addiction, improves creativity and inspiration and promotes friendships and a sense of community. (Huffington Post)


     If you’ve ever had surgery or you’ve assisted a loved one in the hospital after surgery, you know that as soon as possible, the nurses or a physical therapist will get the patient up on his feet again. Even if he just stands by the bed for a moment or takes a few tottering steps to the door and back, getting up and moving is vital for recovery.

     Walking keeps things moving…from our circulation to our digestive system. Recent reports about the dangers of sitting for extended periods of time have had headlines like, “Sitting is the new Smoking.” 

     Sitting promotes blood clots in the legs and can result in dangerous pulmonary embolisms. In addition, prolonged sitting causes muscle weakness that causes balance issues which in turn may cause falls.  Furthermore, as we get older we tend to be less efficient at absorbing vital nutrients like calcium. In order to keep our bones strong, we need some weight bearing exercise like walking…even gentle walking. Finally, in a 23 year study done by San Diego University, benefits to walkers included an average blood pressure 25% below that of non-exercisers as well as a decreased risk of developing colon cancer.

     Convinced yet?  If so, keep reading.


     Bad habits are hard to break, and good habits are hard to form. So, here are a few ideas to jump-start the walking habit:

  • Think small…at least to begin with. If you’ve been inactive for years, don’t decide today that you’re going to walk three miles tomorrow and every day thereafter. ..thus setting yourself up for failure. Start small. Once around the block is enough to start with or just a stroll after dinner. After that becomes a habit, work your way slowly up to your eventual time or distance goal.

  • Break it up. Studies show that three 10-minute walks in one day are as effective as one thirty minute walk. If thirty minutes seems overwhelming, 10 minutes might feel more manageable. The important thing is to move more which can be as easy as not trying to find the closest parking space at Walmart. 

  • Make connections. Sometimes the easiest way to start a new habit or routine is to connect it with something you already do routinely. For instance, most of us eat three times a day. Walking ten minutes before or after each meal will connect the two activities in your mind and promote the adoption of the new, good habit of walking. If you go to the mailbox every day at the same time, put on your walking shoes and go for a walk before you pick up the mail.  Many of us enjoy going for a walk right after dinner, and it’s an obvious way to connect the habit of dinner time with the habit of walking. It also promotes healthy digestion and a good night’s sleep.

  • Go streaking. No, we don’t mean that kind of streaking! Keep your clothes on, but make a point to keep track of your progress. There is something about doing an activity for several days in a row that encourages us to want to keep doing it. It’s sort of the same concept our teachers used in grade school when they gave us gold stars. Once we had three or four of them, we wanted that streak to continue. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld, of all people, used this leverage technique for joke writing. He made a big calendar and determined to write a new joke every day. Each day, after he wrote the new joke, he would put a big red X on that day. After a couple of weeks, he realized he didn’t want to break that long chain of X marks and it became an important aspect of his success. (lifehacker.com) So, every time you take a walk, make a mark on your calendar or add a marble to a glass jar or get yourself some gold stars and use them to keep track of your walking. Keep the streak going.  Here is a link to a pdf of a walking log. 

  • Use technology. Most of us have smart phones or tablets or some other device that uses apps. There are numerous fitness apps available such as “Map my Walk” on i-phones and "Walk Logger” on Android; and many of them are free. “Everybody Walk” is available for both Android and iPhone. You can set your phone to remind you that it’s time to go for your walk, keep track of your mileage and even show a map of your journey.  There is even an app called "Habit Streak" that keeps track of your streak of success…sort of the equivalent of electronic gold stars! By the way, if you have an i-phone, here’s where you can get a free pedometer app.

  • Make it fun. A daily walk has great potential to be daily fun. If you can, walk with someone else (as long as he’s good company). Walking and talking makes the time go by faster. Walk your dog. Dogs are always good company and pretty much appreciate everything you have to say! Listen to music. Dig out your golden oldies and make a play list. Walk to the rhythm of The Beach Boys or The Temptations and you might find yourself dancing instead and become the talk of the neighborhood!
  • Go exploring. Vary the territory you cover. Shelby County has miles and miles of walking trails in our county parks system. You can walk beside the baseball fields and golf course at Clear Creek Park, along the water at Lake Shelby or even on the horse trails at Shelby Trails Park…just watch your step. If you have a canine friend who needs exercise, get a pass to the dog park at Red Orchard Park. If you haven’t been there, the enclosures are huge, so while your dog plays with his doggy pals, you can have a nice walk around the perimeter fence. Or walk along some of the 3.8 miles of trails which are open to hikers and horses. Trail maps, dog park passes and other information can be found at the Family Activity Center at Clear Creek Park. More information can be found at www.shelbycountyparks.com.

  • Of course, you could also park your car downtown and walk around Shelbyville. Park at the city lot east of the new courthouse, cross over to Washington Street and walk west, then cross over to Main and up the long hill past all the pretty shops. That hill is good exercise if you can refrain from stopping to look in the shop windows. If it’s a rainy day, several local churches, including First Baptist Church of Shelbyville have walking tracks. Just be sure to check with the church office about schedules and rules.
  • Explore further. Once you begin feeling stronger, you may feel like         blazing new trails and try a more serious hike at one of our state parks as a new challenge. Just make sure you are prepared with water, bug spray and a good trail map before heading out into the wilderness. Information on state park hiking trails can be found at www.kentuckytourism.com.
  • If you are looking for something closer to home, the Egg Lawn at Floyd’s Fork Park is a popular walking destination with an easy, level walking path.  Or try the two mile walking path in Anchorage, Ky.
    Over in Frankfort you can try the River Loop Trail that starts downtown and ends up at
    Cove Spring Park or walk around the ponds at the Salato Wildlife Center.  There are also trails at the Buckley Wildlife Center just east of Frankfort near Millville. 

    And if you want to drive further east, Lexington has developed the
    Legacy Trail, a 12 mile walking, biking and interpretive trail that also serves as a public art venue.  The trail begins at the east end of Lexington and ends at the Kentucky Horse Park.

    Or head north to Southern Indiana and try Trail #6 at
    Clarksville State Park as well as several others from which to choose.

     Consider this statement: 
"Every minute of exercise could lengthen your life seven minutes."
     Wow!  That's a powerful statement!  And according to some researchers, it is true. 
     According to a recent paper with the challenging title of "Leisure Time Physical Activity of Moderate to Vigorous Intensit     y and Mortality:  A Large Pooled Cohort Analysis" (Dr. I-Min Lee, Brigham and Women's Hospital), a middle-aged person who gets the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise — defined as the level of brisk walking — can expect a 1-to-7 return: seven extra minutes of life gained for each minute spent exercising. (wbur's Common Health)
     For most of us, the notion of being debilitated by a stroke or heart attack and having to depend on others, worst of all our children, for our daily needs is the scariest thought of all.  Yet, statistically, most ambulance rides for people our age are the result of cardiovascular problems and stroke. 
     So, it's a "no brainer".  Boomers need to get up and get moving.  We have the power within us to save our own lives.

  Please note:  Information in this article is intended for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.  Please check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.