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Before I got sick, I was an extremely active person, but I almost never walked anywhere. That may sound strange—instead, I chose to ride my bike to work and run for exercise. If you asked me why I never walked, I’d say it seemed like such a waste of time. Two adjectives that described me back then would be hyper and impatient. Why would I take an hour to go the distance that it would take me 10 minutes by bike or 20 minutes running?
Once I had my health crisis, however, I found my perspective changing a bit. Back then, I had a hard time standing up from a seated or lying position, much less ambling around my house. As I slowly regained my strength, I found walking to be an integral component to my healing journey. And now, as I am physically healed enough to run and cycle and do all the things I did before my health crisis, I chose to walk as my main form of exercise. In this article, I hope to share the reasons why I believe walking is one of the best activities for those of us with chronic illness.
Recent studies tell us a lot about the benefits of walking—it prevents cardiovascular disease, boosts creativity, eases depression, prevents osteoporosis, reduces stress, and supports a healthy body weight. Unless it is done indoors on a treadmill, walking outdoors exposes us to sunlight so that our skin can manufacture vitamin D, which is an immune regulator. I find it surprising, give all of the evidence in favor of walking, that most people don’t seek it out or even consider it exercise.
Here is a list of why I believe autoimmune folks should consider walking:
- It’s moderate impact—walking is lower impact than running, but not so low impact that it doesn’t provide much benefit in building bone density, like cycling or swimming.
- It’s similar to how our ancestors moved—they spent their time working on their feet, walking, and gathering foods. Our bodies are adapted to this type of movement, yet most of us spend more time sitting than standing or walking.
- It doubles as a stress-reduction exercise—since most of us with autoimmunity are struggling with some form of adrenal fatigue, we need all the help we can get in managing our daily stress.
- It exposes us to sunlight, fresh air, and nature—which will help regulate our immune systems and manage our stress.
- It can be an activity that builds community—walking can be enjoyed with others and is a great alternate activity to going out for a meal or a drink with friends (especially when you are on the elimination diet!)
- It takes minimal investment—the only thing you need is a good pair of shoes!
- It is good for lymphatic flow—although the lymphatic system has lots of vessels, it lacks a pump, and is dependent on movement for flow and drainage. This is why movement is good for detoxification.
- It can be scaled to your needs—you can walk a block in your neighborhood, or scale a mountain.
- It can be done anywhere—you can walk in your neighborhood, at a local park, in the mountains, on the beach, in a shopping mall… the possibilities are endless!
How to get started
Getting started with a walking routine is super simple—get a good pair of shoes and just start somewhere! When I was sick, I made it a goal to walk the block around my house every day. Then I started expanding that to a few blocks, to the point where I had routes of varying lengths around my neighborhood depending on how I felt. Your walking routine can be as little or as much as you want it to be—the key is just getting out there and doing it!
I’m a big fan of minimalist footwear—you can read more about it in this post. The basic takeaway is that these types of shoes don’t have a rise in the heel and they have a larger toe box, which allows your foot to behave naturally. I used to wear traditional walking and running shoes, and while they felt a lot more comfortable and cushy initially, I often ended up with knee and back pain. As I made the transition to minimalist footwear, my feet have become much stronger and my body is pain-free, even after long walks in shoes without any padding. These days I wear minimalist trail-running shoes for my walks, since I live on a farm and adventure out on the gravel roads. One thing to know about minimalist footwear, is that it takes a while for your muscles in your legs and feet to gain the strength to wear them all the time. If you are going to go for it, make the transition a gradual one!
How do I incorporate walking into my routine?
I aim for a 1-2 hour walk every day in my neighborhood, drizzle or shine (although I don’t usually go out when I’m going to get soaked and jump on my rebounding trampoline instead). I rotate between walking alone, walking with my mom or husband, or walking with a podcast in my headphones. Sometimes on the weekend I’ll make a point to find a local hike in the area and go for something a little more strenuous, maybe 2-3 hours, to get more of a workout. I attribute a lot of my continued success at long-term healing to choosing to walk instead of more exhausting forms of exercise (along with a healing diet, of course!).
Let me know in the comments how you walk, and if you have found it helpful to your healing journey!
Thank you for this reminder about the benefits of walking. It is currently my main form of exercise as I continue to battle my post-prednisone adrenal fatigue (a result of a nasty two and a half year Crohn’s flare). Walking has helped me slowly build up my stamina over time (I’d lost a lot of it when I was sick) and is helpful with the anxiety and muscle/joint pain that I’ve also developed as a result of past medications. But I admit, sometimes I feel guilty that I’m not pushing myself to do more intense forms of exercise. I appreciate this reminder that it’s okay to allow myself to build up gradually (and not feel guilty about that) and to feel proud of what sometimes seems like an insignificant accomplishment. This helps put it all in perspective…thank you! 🙂
Thank you for sharing your story! I’m so happy that walking has helped you recover. I had a similar experience with stamina–at first I could only walk the block around my house, some days now I walk for a couple of hours (5-6 miles). Its amazing how scalable it can be!
Wishing you the best,
I inherited my mom’s Jack Russel a few months ago and he is the best thing that ever happened to us. When I got him he was out of shape and overweight from my brother never walking him and feeding him junk. I made it my mission to get him into shape so I started walking him twice a day for nice long walks. I would guess it is well over half mile each time. We both LOVE our walks and are much more physically fit. Oh, and I feed him grain free and he only gets treats after he eats all his food 😉
What a sweet story! I am so happy for both of you, and that you have such an enthusiastic companion 🙂
What an incredibly timely reminder for me! I have been dealing with what I strongly suspect is an autoimmune problem of some kind, but without the guidance of any health care professional, I’m left to try to manage on my own… (Although I think he’s doing a good job in some ways, Obama-care isn’t helping everyone, and is in fact hurting some people, I’m one of them…)
I had incorporated walking into my daily routine several months back, when it was quite an effort just to make it around the block, but nothing else felt even remotely manageable either. Slowly but surely, my walks, along with other self care things I was doing, things started to get better; my digestion and chronic pain both started to become more and more manageable, until it seemed like I didn’t really have those problems anymore… Oops! All it takes a few weeks of too much work (in an attempt to “play catch-up” with bills…), and not enough counter-balancing, and it feels like I’ve back-slid quite a bit over the last several days. When I read your article this morning, I was tempted to write this response immediately, and I got up and went for a walk instead! 😉
This has helped me to remember that no matter the challenges or demands in our lives that SEEM to take precedence over everything else, our health is always the first priority. Period. Now that I’ve had at least one little walk today, I sat down and put a few more into my schedule for the coming week. It’s a little step that I think will do nothing but good things for me. Thank you again!
Thanks for sharing your story! I can definitely resonate with the idea of doing something (more work, email, etc) instead of the next thing I know I need to do to keep myself feeling healthy. Kudos for you for making those decisions, and I wish you continued success as you put these pieces together 🙂
[…] Benefits of a regular walking routine. […]
I found this a great article. Today is the day I commence AIP. I have hashimoto’s and want to reduce my antibodies and start feeling better.. I have your AIP cookbook. I have read the Paleo Approach and have the recipe book that goes hand in hand. I feel that I am armed and ready to do battle. I have been a Coca cola addict. I changed to Coke Zero some years ago – only to subsititute sugar for chemicals. I am a slow learner obviously. I know that following AIP will not be a walk in the park but I have the support of my husband and family. My husband will be eating this way for at least 6 weeks, this will help enormously. The thing I will miss the most is egg as it is my go to easy breakfast. We were away for the long Easter weekend and arrived home late. No food shopping done. Got up this morning, found some carrots in the fridge. Pulled out some bone broth (Luckily I have some prepared ready for AIP) and made Carrot and ginger soup. Had this for brekkie and will have for lunch as I am working today. Also pulled out sausages from the freezer and cooked up 2 one for each meal. So far so good.. Thanks for your articles and recipes.
Wishing you healing on your journey! You are right, it is not a walk in the park, but being prepared and having your husband’s support will help steer you in the right direction. Hang in there!
[…] 10 minutes a day can help with mood management! Starting to feel a little overwhelmed, angry or stressed? Take a […]
I walk on a treadmill for about half an hour 6 days a week because my AI issues (SLE and Sjogren’s) make me sun sensitive. I hope that this will eventually resolve since I am doing AIP. Have you ever heard of anyone becoming less sun sensitive? I love walking outside! Walking keeps me from being as stiff. I experience more pain when I don’t walk.
While I haven’t heard of this particular improvement for people trying AIP, I can’t say why it wouldn’t come with healing. Keep us posted either way, and wishing you luck!
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[…] The Benefits of a Regular Walking Routine […]
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[…] enhance self-awareness, lengthen attention span, reduce age-related memory loss, and more. Walking – My body was too sick to continue my intense workouts, so I chose to walk outside instead. […]