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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!