It’s wonderful to hear the occasional story about something positive emerging from COVID. As a 75-year old COVID survivor, I’d add another: rediscovering walking.
I’ve never seen as many walking on my cul-de-sac, including whole families. It’s delightful to stroll down major urban streets heading for an outdoor dinner because those streets now belong, in part, to pedestrians.
There’s an important public policy element to walking, as well:
walking may well be the single most versatile means of dealing with COVID’s many impacts on our lives, available to everyone, no matter their age, sex, or income, at no cost. I argue it merits formal inclusion in response strategies on all governmental levels— but is rarely considered, because we take it for granted.
My zeal for walking is because it may have saved my life! My doctor agrees that having met my fitness goals every day for 47 months (as recorded by my smartwatch) was a major factor in my relatively mild case of COVID and quick recovery.
Parking our cars for days at a time let us rediscover an astonishing variety of walking’s benefits. Consider a few:
Mental health: coping with COVID has sent emotional health problems soaring for even the best adjusted. Getting outside — especially walking in a nature area — lowers stress levels. In a Rails-to-Trails Conservancy survey, forty-six percent said access to open spaces cut their COVID stress levels. I cheat to boost my benefits: while walking I do a form of meditation (counting my breaths) which significantly lowers my blood pressure and stress levels.
Physical health: There’s no monthly dues, and the streets are usually the last part of our communities to be shut down during the pandemic. Equipment? Just a pair of sturdy shoes. Training? Mommy taught you. Medical studies demonstrating walking’s health benefits are too numerous to cite. Several stand out:
“A study appearing in JAMA just prior to the pandemic, found … the more steps participants over age 40 took, the lower their mortality risk from all causes… walking reduced the risk of developing heart disease by 31% … for both men and women who walked as little as 5.5 miles a week at a slow pace of 2 mph…. extending a stroll to 12,000 steps a day was linked to a 65 percent lower risk of death.” Don’t worry if you can’t do that much: “… low-intensity strolls appeared to be just as effective as higher-intensity power walks for the nearly 5,000 study participants.”
There’s even a nationwide organization of doctors, Walk With a Doc, who met with people Saturdays before the pandemic, answered questions, then walked with them. The walks continue — virtually.
Ease of access/inclusion:you can walk just about anywhere, and now a growing number of cities worldwide are capitalizing on COVID by repurposing parking spots, and sometimes converting entire blocks to create “liveable streets” that will endure after the crisis as part of their response to global warming and to build sustainability.
Equally important, now we’re also more aware of racial and economic health disparities, walking is available to everyone. One non-profit capitalizing on this accessibility is GirlTrek. Its mission is to mobilize and unite Black women and girls nationwide by walking together through their neighborhoods and activities such as retracing Harriet Tubman’s walk to freedom.
Boost your brain According to AARP, “Researchers have found that regular aerobic exercise appears to increase the size of the hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for memory….. A University of Maryland study of people ages 55 to 85 … showed that a single session of exercise increased activation in the brain circuits associated with memory.” Taking a walk break before your next Zoom when stymied by some work task can lead to insights popping into your head that would never have surfaced if you were concentrating.
Oh, yeah. Walking during COVID has Dr. Fauci’s stamp of the champ. He told CNBC he and his wife power walk 3.5 miles daily.
Joe Biden can have his pricey Peleton. For the rest of us during COVID, my presidential model is Harry S. Truman: “How do you live a long life? Take a two-mile walk every morning before breakfast.””
When he isn’t walking, W. David Stephenson, of Stephenson Strategies, Millis,MA, is an Internet of Things (IoT) consultant, author of The Future Is Smart IoT strategy book, and IndustryWeek columnist. He’s writing a book, SmartAging After Covid, combining his personal experiences with IoT home and health devices and his IoT expertise, to keep seniors healthy and in their own homes.