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The Ten Minute Walk

What if I told you that, in order to potentially prevent premature illness or death, all you needed to do was walk an extra ten minutes a day?

Several studies published in the last few years have shown us that may be all it takes. In 2019, the CDC published a study that showed more than 8% of deaths each year in the US could be attributed to activity levels - or rather, lack thereof. The standard here and in Europe for average adults to access 150 minutes per week of exercise is based on a study that showed this was the minimum amount of exercise needed to prevent death by 25%. And, another study in the US and Europe showed us that the most sedentary men and women in the study were as much as 260% more likely to die early, compared to the most active participants in the study.

But, I’d like to share with you a few more reasons why, and a few ways of how you can incorporate a ten minute walk into your life.

One of the basic principles in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is an advanced form of therapy used to help change behaviors and thoughts, is to use a distraction technique to help overcome habits associated with anxiety, stress, compulsive behaviors or negative thoughts we all may struggle with in our lives. Finding opportunities to step away from a stressful situation or a trigger, and utilizing a short walk to do so, does several things: it removes you from the stressful situation, places you in a new environment, and gives you time to wind down, recalibrate and move forward with a better solution (oh, and it also increases the total amount of movement you’re performing in a day, see paragraph 1).

When else can this be helpful?

If you find yourself in disordered eating patterns, if you’re trying to quit smoking, or trying to find an alternative to any undesirable thought or behavior, go for a ten minute walk.

In the end, you may end up eating that snack, or smoking that cigarette, and that is okay. What you did accomplish, was you placed a little bit of space and time in between that initial trigger, and the behavior. That’s a big deal in the brain. You stepped away, and you survived. Do it again, and again, and keep doing it. Over time, building that trust with yourself that you can step away from that habit and survive - maybe the next time you go for your ten minute walk, you’ll come back and you won’t want to engage in that behavior again. The time away will have been enough. Many coaches and personal trainers have employed the ten minute walk with clients who struggle with impulse control with great success.

Additionally, the founder of EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, discovered this incredibly valuable therapeutic technique while she was walking outside.This triggered a number of studies that showed that the passive eye movement associated with walking outside, especially in nature, has positive effects on the brain(as well as drumming and other rhythmic movements). This phenomenon is better experienced when being present in the moment, so while it’s okay to wear headphones, listen to a podcast or chat with a friend, looking down at your phone is probably not the best activity to do while walking. So, if possible, when you walk do so with your head up and looking ahead. Not only is this safer when walking outside, but it can help rest your eyes (especially if you sit behind a desk a lot) and potentially bring you some of the same benefits Dr. Francine Shapiro discovered during her walks.

Other studies have also shown a short walk after each meal also benefits blood glucose levels, especially in individuals with Type 2 Diabetes. Movement after meals can also help improve digestion, as both gravity and movement affect our digestive systems and help it work more efficiently. If you are currently being treated for, or at risk for Type 2 Diabetes or other metabolic disorders, a ten minute walk may be another simple tool to have handy to help you overcome this disease.

Whether it’s to help decompress, build better habits, increase your amount of daily movement and activity, or to help improve your overall health, a ten minute walk, stroll or roll outside, at the indoor track or even the mall, can do so much for us. Whatever the reason, I hope to see more of you outside as the weather starts to improve this spring!

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