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Take A Hike! The Benefits Of A Lunchtime Walk

It’s noon and I have a date.

It’s with my sneakers. As soon as the clock strikes 12, I push myself away from the computer, lace up the sneakers I keep in my tote bag and head outside. It’s time to take a walk.

I have spent nearly every lunch hour for the past five years hitting the pavement. These daily lunchtime walks have improved my life in small but recognizable ways, and I think they will do the same for you if you make daily walking a habit.

It’s easy for me to make walking part of my workday routine. The InsuranceNewsNet office is at the edge of a residential area with plenty of sidewalks, and two parks with walking paths are close to our building. Our office building also has a fitness center, so if it’s raining or icy outside, I can walk on a treadmill instead of dealing with inclement weather. If I need to run an errand or two over the lunch hour — no problem! I’m a five-minute drive from a shopping area, so I can park the car, walk to the store or the bank or the post office, and then get in a 10- or 12-block walk before I head back to work.

My lunchtime walking goal is a mile and a half, but I don’t worry too much about how far I walk. I’m more concerned about working up to a brisk pace and maintaining it for as long as I can. The fact that here in Pennsylvania, we have a lot of hills wherever we go, adds even more of a workout to the walk.

So what benefits did all this walking bring me? Here are a few.

» No more afternoon slump. Sitting at a desk and looking at a computer screen all day may not be physically taxing, but it still can bring on fatigue. Getting up from my chair and moving around for an hour gets the circulation going and provides a shot of energy that lasts most of the afternoon.

» Weight management. An hour of walking burns between 175 and 200 calories. So we’re not talking about a major calorie burn here. But the cumulative effect of burning that many calories day after day can yield significant results, especially if the walking is combined with a decreased food intake.

In my case, walking contributed to a weight loss of more than 30 pounds over the course of two years. But it wasn’t only the walking that made me lose weight. I ate a smaller, less-caloric lunch after I started walking. I didn’t have as much time to eat because I wanted to spend more time moving outside. And I started bringing my own food for lunch (usually fresh fruit and a few slices of turkey breast that I could eat quickly at my desk) instead of driving down the road to gorge myself at a fast-food restaurant. 

Knowing how much time I had to spend walking to burn off the number of calories that I would consume by eating, say, a brownie, made it easier to say no to certain foods. I became more mindful of what I ate as a result.

» Creativity boost. Writing is a creative profession. Sometimes it’s difficult for the words to come out when you want them to. I discovered that as I walked outside, my brain somehow “loosened up” and enabled those trapped words to flow freely. If I was working on a blog post or a feature article and was having trouble figuring out how to start, I soon would find myself “writing” it in my mind. I became more productive as well as more creative as a result.

» Enhanced mood. The combination of sunshine exposure, fresh air and physical activity did wonders for my overall mood. I felt less anxious and irritable as the afternoon wore on. Sometimes I used my walking time as an opportunity to untangle a problem I faced. As I walked outside, I had an opportunity to observe little things — birds and other suburban wildlife, flowers growing in people’s front yards, buds emerging on trees — I might not have noticed otherwise. I scrunched through dry autumn leaves and even splashed in a rain puddle or two. Walking became a grown-up version of recess.

What The Experts Say

Don’t take my word for it — health researchers have proven that walking is good for you in numerous ways. 

Harvard University researchers found that walking 5½ miles per week reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 31 percent and cut the risk of dying by 32 percent. Another Harvard study found that those who walked at least 20 minutes a day for at least five days a week had 43 percent fewer sick days than those who exercised once a week or less.

An American Cancer Society study found that women who walked seven or more hours a week had a 14 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those who walked three hours or fewer per week.

Taking a walk instead of sitting all day may lead to more creative thinking, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. A Stanford University researcher found that those who walked instead of sat gave more creative responses on tests commonly used to measure creative thinking. 

And those who walk during lunchtime make better employees, according to a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports. The study found that office workers who walked three times a week during lunch were less tense and more enthusiastic and relaxed. They were also better able to cope with their workload.

A better mood, more creativity, greater enthusiasm and reduced risk of illness — do you need any more reasons why you should put on those sneakers and take a walk?

Take The First Steps

1. Map out a route for your daily walk. A route that is close to your workplace is ideal. If there’s a walking trail or a good pedestrian route a 5-minute drive from your workplace, that’s good, too. Or if you spend a large portion of your day away from your office, be alert for potential walking locations (public parks are ideal) along your way.

2. Keep sneakers handy! Have a pair in your office or in your car so that you always have the proper footwear.

3. Make an appointment with yourself and keep it. Put it on your Outlook calendar or create an alert on your phone — anything to get your attention and prompt you to go outside.

Reap The Benefits

Researchers have found that regular walking yields a number of benefits, including:

  • 30% lower risk of cardiovascular disease1
  • 81% greater creativity2
  • 6 times greater improvement in glucose tolerance3

1. New England Journal of Medicine,  2. Stanford University,  3. Duke University

Susan Rupe is managing editor for InsuranceNewsNet. She formerly served as communications director for an insurance agents' association and was an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor. Follow her on Twitter @INNsusan. Contact her at [email protected].

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