It is on a Sunday afternoon as I sit to write this column. I have just returned from a long walk of around 40 minutes or so. Felt good. A fast walker I am not, but I’m steady and keep moving at a pretty constant pace. I love to walk outside, especially this time of year with the approach of winter. The briskness in the air is invigorating, but to be honest, I walk when there is snow on the ground and the temperature is 30 degrees, and I walk when the sun is zapping its hot rays on me. I just have always enjoyed the feeling of my body in motion.
I enjoy the feeling of getting the heart pumping, the blood percolating, and the sweat rolling, so to speak. You could say I’m a drug user, and my drugs of choice are ones such as endorphins and dopamine, which are hormones produced by the body at an increased level when one exercises.
Almost 100 percent of the time, I feel much better after working out than I did before starting. Sure, I will feel “winded” and a little tired, but the exercise high I get completely overrides the fact that my muscles may be tight and that sweat may seem to be oozing out of every pore in my body. Exercise just feels good.
My college students probably get sick of hearing me remind them several times during a semester that they “should take note of how they feel before exercising in class, and then do the same thing after finishing.” My point is that the exercise will have them feeling better upon “exiting the door” than they did when entering it. I’m pretty sure these students also get tired of me telling them that they can’t do anything more important each day than devote time to exercise. I tell them exercising is as important, if not more so, than going to their other classes, as important as their jobs, their religion, their family, or what have you.
Exercise, including walking, can make your brain smarter, to just list one benefit. Gray matter in the brain, also called the cerebral cortex, processes much of the information we use. In a recent study, it was found that people who burn more calories have about 5 percent more gray matter. That is good news, as shrinkage of the cerebral cortex is thought to be a contributor to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. So walk and improve your brain health!
But let me get back to my walk of earlier today. Walking is a type of exercise that most of you can do. It’s cheap, it’s relaxing, it doesn’t require much skill, it’s safe, and the rewards are plentiful. I enjoy my alone time, so the majority of my walks are by myself.
As English poet John Milton once wrote, “Solitude sometimes is best society.” Just today, on my walk, I pretty much made plans for the upcoming week, such as wrapping up the fall semester, made a list in my head of tasks that need to get done this week, and went over in my mind a presentation I will be giving to a local organization. So not only do I use my walks to get some good exercise, but I also use them as a good time to reflect and plan ahead.
Now that I think about it, that 40 minutes I spent walking earlier today sure was a wise way to spend part of my day. And it still left me over 23 hours to spend the rest of the 24 hours each of us has each day. Not a bad deal at all, don’t you agree?
Get out soon and enjoy a good walk. It just may develop into a part of your day that you can’t do without.
Lewis Bowling teaches at N.C. Central University and Duke University. He is the author of several books on fitness and sports. His website is www.lewisbowling.com. He can be reached at 919-530-6224 and at Lewis_Bowling@yahoo.com.