Wed. Apr 8th, 2020

The benefits of getting outside for a walk

It’s one of the few things you can do while practicing social distancing.

With all the uncertainty swirling around the country about the coronavirus — and the various orders to stay at home as much as you can, practice social distancing and wash your hands — there’s a lot of pent-up energy to do something to get moving. And while there’s an array of fitness apps and free workouts streaming online, getting outside for a walk (not to mention a literal breath of fresh air) is high on the to-do list.But is it safe to actually do so? “Yes, if you have the ability to walk — and are not quarantined or in recommended isolation — you should go for a walk at least once a day,” says Dr. Daphne Scott, primary sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “Going for a walk is a good way to get exercise, especially if you’ve been stuck indoors all day, and it may help with feelings of anxiety or depression that some people may be experiencing.” That said, you shouldn’t just go for a walk all willy-nilly. Your first rule of thumb: social distancing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that means maintaining 6 feet of space between you and other parties — including people you know. Because, yes, there’s a difference between going for a walk or run with your partner or roommate whom you’ve been quarantining with and doing the same thing with your friend who lives down the street. “You have already had close contact, meaning you’ve been exposed to, the people you live with,” Scott said. “So if it’s someone you don’t live with, you should keep the 6-foot rule, even if they are people you used to see regularly.” If that’s proving to be tough — after all, some walking paths only have so much space for people crossing — think about the time of day you’re going (off-peak times, like early in the morning or late at night, often see fewer people) or try to find a different route altogether, Scott suggests. Some streets are more empty than usual — you may be able to freely walk around somewhere you typically wouldn’t. And while many might like to stay outside all day, Scott says the length of time you should be out exercising depends on where you live. In New York City, for instance, the recommendation is to go out, do your normal workout, then go home without lingering outside, she explains. And of course, when you do return home, thoroughly wash your hands, sanitize any high-touch areas you might have brushed up against and change into clean clothes before you plop on your couch. But orders and recommendations vary by location, so there isn’t a hard-and-fast rule right now. In general, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends moderate-intensity exercise for 150 minutes or more each week. “A brisk walk at a pace of 3-4 mph for 30 minutes, five days a week, can achieve this,” Scott said. “If you are counting distance or steps, recent evidence from the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee has shown walking 7,000 to 9,000 steps may be just as beneficial.” Of course, it’s important to remember we are currently in a time of constant change, Scott said. So continue to check in with official recommendations from the CDC, as well as your state and local governments, to make sure you’re up to date on official orders and guidelines. And if you have any concerns before you get started walking, check in with your doctor — most are instituting telehealth visits or are available for phone calls right now, Scott says. Otherwise, go on and get stepping — not only will it help ease concerns, but you could also net these extra health benefits. Walking can help aid in weight loss. Some people seem to be (jokingly?) concerned about the “quarantine 15,” and while gaining weight should literally be the least of your worries right now, old habits are hard to break. So rest easy knowing that daily walks could help counterbalance any comfort food you choose to (rightfully) indulge in. The ACSM recommends 300 minutes or more of moderate-intensity activity for those looking to lose weight — the equivalent of about an hourlong brisk walk five days a week, or a 45-minute walk daily. Just remember if you’re new to exercise and/or walking, Scott says it’s important to slowly build up how much you’re able to walk each day.It could also improve your digestion. One of the best times to go for a walk (assuming it’s not crowded)? After you eat. “Walking after meals can improve digestion and help food move through the gut,” Scott said. “There is also evidence that shows walking after eating can decrease blood sugar, which can be helpful for diabetic patients.” Plus, walking has been known to help with anxiety.When you’re constantly inside without distraction, it can be easy to get in your head and worry about all of the unknowns. For those struggling, walking outdoors can help. “It has a positive impact on mental and emotional states,” according to Dr. Hillary Cauthen, executive board member for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. “Walking releases dopamine and endorphins in the brain, which produce feelings of euphoria.” To get even more of a boost, Cauthen suggests walking quickly enough to increase your heart rate, like with walking intervals, or switching up your speed. “It changes brain chemistry to assist in reducing stress and anxiety by increasing the availability of anti-anxiety neurochemicals, including serotonin,” she said. And possibly impact your sleep. In a time of heightened anxiety, prioritizing sleep is key. Thankfully, walking can help you do that better. Again, Scott said scientists don’t entirely know why, but there are some solid educated guesses out there. “Some theories suggest walking in the morning can help with your body’s circadian rhythm,” she explains. “Others suggest the stress reduction that can possibly be seen with walking can help sleep.” While it may not affect sleep duration, recent research published in the journal “Sleep” did find that postmenopausal women who participate in light to moderate physical activity caught better Z’s than those who stayed mostly sedentary. And the National Sleep Foundation has shown that walking (or exercise in general) can improve sleep quality. Walking may also make you more creative. In times like these, it’s easy to get stuck in a funk. But going for a walk may help boost your brainstorming power. Research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Learning Memory and Cognition found that, after administering creative-thinking tests to people who were either seated or walking, those who walked thought more creatively than the sedentary folk. “Walking improves blood flow and circulation, it releases chemicals in your brain to improve your mood and it allows you to get outside of your normal environment and think outside the box through the process of movement,” Cauthen said. So if you find yourself struggling with a mental work block, going for a short stroll may help unlock some insight.

With all the uncertainty swirling around the country about the coronavirus — and the various orders to stay at home as much as you can, practice social distancing and wash your hands — there’s a lot of pent-up energy to do something to get moving. And while there’s an array of fitness apps and free workouts streaming online, getting outside for a walk (not to mention a literal breath of fresh air) is high on the to-do list.

But is it safe to actually do so?

“Yes, if you have the ability to walk — and are not quarantined or in recommended isolation — you should go for a walk at least once a day,” says Dr. Daphne Scott, primary sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. “Going for a walk is a good way to get exercise, especially if you’ve been stuck indoors all day, and it may help with feelings of anxiety or depression that some people may be experiencing.”

That said, you shouldn’t just go for a walk all willy-nilly. Your first rule of thumb: social distancing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that means maintaining 6 feet of space between you and other parties — including people you know. Because, yes, there’s a difference between going for a walk or run with your partner or roommate whom you’ve been quarantining with and doing the same thing with your friend who lives down the street.

“You have already had close contact, meaning you’ve been exposed to, the people you live with,” Scott said. “So if it’s someone you don’t live with, you should keep the 6-foot rule, even if they are people you used to see regularly.”

If that’s proving to be tough — after all, some walking paths only have so much space for people crossing — think about the time of day you’re going (off-peak times, like early in the morning or late at night, often see fewer people) or try to find a different route altogether, Scott suggests. Some streets are more empty than usual — you may be able to freely walk around somewhere you typically wouldn’t.

And while many might like to stay outside all day, Scott says the length of time you should be out exercising depends on where you live. In New York City, for instance, the recommendation is to go out, do your normal workout, then go home without lingering outside, she explains. And of course, when you do return home, thoroughly wash your hands, sanitize any high-touch areas you might have brushed up against and change into clean clothes before you plop on your couch.

But orders and recommendations vary by location, so there isn’t a hard-and-fast rule right now. In general, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends moderate-intensity exercise for 150 minutes or more each week.

“A brisk walk at a pace of 3-4 mph for 30 minutes, five days a week, can achieve this,” Scott said. “If you are counting distance or steps, recent evidence from the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee has shown walking 7,000 to 9,000 steps may be just as beneficial.”

Of course, it’s important to remember we are currently in a time of constant change, Scott said. So continue to check in with official recommendations from the CDC, as well as your state and local governments, to make sure you’re up to date on official orders and guidelines. And if you have any concerns before you get started walking, check in with your doctor — most are instituting telehealth visits or are available for phone calls right now, Scott says.

Otherwise, go on and get stepping — not only will it help ease concerns, but you could also net these extra health benefits.

Walking can help aid in weight loss.

Some people seem to be (jokingly?) concerned about the “quarantine 15,” and while gaining weight should literally be the least of your worries right now, old habits are hard to break. So rest easy knowing that daily walks could help counterbalance any comfort food you choose to (rightfully) indulge in. The ACSM recommends 300 minutes or more of moderate-intensity activity for those looking to lose weight — the equivalent of about an hourlong brisk walk five days a week, or a 45-minute walk daily. Just remember if you’re new to exercise and/or walking, Scott says it’s important to slowly build up how much you’re able to walk each day.

It could also improve your digestion.

One of the best times to go for a walk (assuming it’s not crowded)? After you eat.

“Walking after meals can improve digestion and help food move through the gut,” Scott said. “There is also evidence that shows walking after eating can decrease blood sugar, which can be helpful for diabetic patients.”

Plus, walking has been known to help with anxiety.

When you’re constantly inside without distraction, it can be easy to get in your head and worry about all of the unknowns. For those struggling, walking outdoors can help. “It has a positive impact on mental and emotional states,” according to Dr. Hillary Cauthen, executive board member for the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. “Walking releases dopamine and endorphins in the brain, which produce feelings of euphoria.”

To get even more of a boost, Cauthen suggests walking quickly enough to increase your heart rate, like with walking intervals, or switching up your speed. “It changes brain chemistry to assist in reducing stress and anxiety by increasing the availability of anti-anxiety neurochemicals, including serotonin,” she said.

And possibly impact your sleep.

In a time of heightened anxiety, prioritizing sleep is key. Thankfully, walking can help you do that better. Again, Scott said scientists don’t entirely know why, but there are some solid educated guesses out there. “Some theories suggest walking in the morning can help with your body’s circadian rhythm,” she explains. “Others suggest the stress reduction that can possibly be seen with walking can help sleep.”

While it may not affect sleep duration, recent research published in the journal “Sleep” did find that postmenopausal women who participate in light to moderate physical activity caught better Z’s than those who stayed mostly sedentary. And the National Sleep Foundation has shown that walking (or exercise in general) can improve









You may have missed