The Surprisingly Deep Benefits of Walking

By Mark Harrison

December 14, 2009   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Readers of my previous articles will know that I try to live as effortlessly as possible. This all started (in a conscious way, at least) when many years ago, as a teenager, I discovered the ancient Chinese idea of Wu Wei – ‘action without action’ or ‘non doing.’ The discovery came quite by accident – as most good things in life tend to happen.

I was on holiday with some friends and one day I went for a walk alone. I came across an old, second hand book shop, and as I glanced over the disordered titles, I came across a translation of the Tao Te Ching, by R. L. Wing called ‘The Tao of Power.’

The front cover described it as ‘Lao Tzu’s classic guide to leadership, influence and excellence.’ I bought the book – who knows why, – and have it on my table as I write these words. It has been a beloved companion throughout all the years since that day.

“Follow your bliss, and doors will open for you that you never knew existed. Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.” – Joseph Campbell

When you’re doing things the right way, when you’re going with the flow – when you’re doing things the ‘wu wei’ – way, then you are effortlessly abundant. This, of course, is why I chose the name ‘Effortless Abundance’ for my website. You should be happy, healthy, fulfilled and abundant in every way. And this abundance should be effortless. Effortless abundance can be applied to every area of life, but here I want to share how I have come to apply it to ‘being fit.’

People put themselves through all sorts of pain to ‘get fit.’ I got into the habit of going to the gym several times a week. I’m sure it did me some good – my resting heart rate is pretty low, I am slim and agile, I sleep pretty well, and I never get out of breath (giving up my ‘social smoking’ will have helped, too!) But there was a downside, too – I guess my knees haven’t appreciated all that running on the treadmill and all that cycling!

But the main downside, the thing that really bothered me, what just how much effort it all was. To be honest, I never enjoyed going to the gym – it was always a chore. Getting changed, having to compete for the ‘machines,’ feeling physically uncomfortable (heart pounding, muscles straining), taking a shower, getting changed again. What a hassle! And how was I fitting this into my schedule? I did make time, but I often had to leave work a bit early or give up part of my weekend. And just the thought of having to do it – that black cloud constantly hanging over me.

Now, I’m not knocking the gym. As I said, I’m sure it did me some good, and I know people (not many, but some) who love the gym and look forward to it. If you’re like this, then great! And here is where I (finally) get to the point I am trying to make.

Whatever you’re doing – whether it’s your work, your hobbies, being with your family, and even exercise – it should make you feel good. It should be enjoyable. If it’s enjoyable, then it’s effortless – it’s action without action; it’s Wu Wei.

Maybe I just don’t like exercise. But when I look back over my life, it seems strikingly obvious that this isn’t true. I never liked sport or competitive games, and I never considered myself – nor was I ever considered by anyone else – as a ‘sporty’ kind of person. But I have always loved walking. Walking is a form of exercise – in fact, it’s one of the best forms of exercise that you can possibly do. In 1997, Professor J Morris and Dr. Adrianne Hardmann called walking ‘the nearest activity to perfect exercise.’ Why? Consider the following health benefits of regular walking:

· Reduced risk of coronary heart disease
· Reduced risk of stroke
· Lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and better blood lipid profile
· Reduced body fat
· Increased bone density, helping to prevent osteoporosis
· Reduced risk of cancer of the colon and breast
· Reduced risk of non-insulin dependent diabetes
· Controls body weight
· Reduced chance of getting gallstones
· Helps flexibility and coordination hence reducing the risk of falls
· Better self esteem
· Lower levels of anxiety and depression
· Enhanced mental well being
· Longer life expectancy
· Better range of movement, hence less chance of injury during a fall
· More flexible muscles
· Better sleep

Need I go on?

When I was younger, I used to go for long walks regularly, not for the health benefits but because I enjoyed it. I loved being alone, being able to think, being out in the fresh air, close to nature. I think walking was one of my favorite activities – it was truly effortless for me. This ‘inner compass’ of our feelings is so vital, isn’t it?

I’m not suggesting that walking is for everyone, but I am sure that when you’re doing what you love, you’re doing the right thing.

Written by Mark Harrison. Mark Harrison writes about personal growth, communication, and increasing personal wealth. Check out his new book, Thirty Days to Change Your Life. Photo Credit: Gret@Lorenz
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