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Take a Hike

With fear of jinxing its permanent arrival and hoping against a reversal of fortunes, it appears that spring has finally made its way to our neck of the woods!

Being imbedded in sports all my life, the changing of the seasons has had more to do with which sport was coming up next than with what Mother Nature was putting before our eyes every few months. Baseball/softball, football, basketball, and repeat have long been the calendar markings on my wall. I’m not much for golf, fishing, and the like; it has always been team sports that have piqued my interest.

As the years have passed, I have been fortunate to maintain an active participation in all three via coaching, broadcasting, and statistical endeavors. Although no longer throwing batting practice, each of these interests provides some degree of keeping active. As a country music fan, I firmly believe in Toby Keith’s song “Don’t Let the Old Man In.”

Having just passed one of those milestone birthdays, a trip to the doctor’s office for the annual physical provided one of those friendly reminders. As is the annual routine, I was handed paperwork asking questions about my daily lifestyle to fill out. One of those questions asked, ‘How far can you walk without stopping to rest?’ To which I offered my usual reply, “Until I get to my destination.”

When asked about my exercise routine, the doctor chuckled at the response. Keeping active has been my routine, but it doesn’t include trips to the workout gym or fancy home exercise equipment. It includes light exercises, sit-ups, yardwork, and as much walking as I have the time to include in my daily endeavors.

One of those occurrences came a week ago when the weather instantly went from a cool spring to the middle of summer overnight. Awakening to a blue sky and a delightful morning provided the perfect ingredients to get back to that walking routine that had been a bit dormant over the winter months.

Although our area has many walking routes, my preferred ones include the Market Street/Maynard Street Bridge walk, the South Williamsport Community Park, and the Commerce Park walking trail. All provide scenery along the way, with the Commerce Park trail particularly pleasing as it conveniently has mileposts keeping me on track for my three-mile journey.

I prefer walking a distance rather than establishing time standards, but the time spent in this singular endeavor provides for much more than exercise. It’s a bit of a social experience as you pass others along the way, some running, some bicycling, and some sporting pained expressions as they doggedly press on.

But all of those along these walking trails share the same determination to improve their lifestyle by taking part. Researching the health benefits of ‘taking a hike’ provides some interesting benefits:

1) Longevity – When done regularly, even leisure walking can extend life expectancy by countering the effects of sedentary lifestyles. Older adults who engage in regular walking report better health and slower aging compared to their less active counterparts.

2) Improves heart health – Walking is a triple threat when it comes to protecting your heart health, helping to lower blood pressure, improve cholesterol levels, and stabilize blood sugar.

3) Fights fatigue and increases energy – Walking can significantly improve physical energy and vitality due to the release of ‘feel-good’ hormones that elevate mood and energy levels.

4) Promotes gut health – Walking, especially after meals, has a significant positive impact on digestion, aiding in the faster and more efficient breakdown and absorption of food.

5) Maintains joint health – Walking can enhance knee joint lubrication and function and, reduce pain, and improve function in individuals with arthritis.

6) Reduces symptoms of depression and anxiety – Research has shown that 35 minutes of walking could significantly reduce the risk of developing major depression by helping to modulate stress hormones and increase endorphin production.

7) Boosts brain health – Moderate-intensity walking can help slow cognitive decline in adults by enhancing blood flow to the brain.

8) Relieves lower back pain – Walking promotes circulation, reduces stiffness, and strengthens the muscles that support the spine, all of which contribute to pain reduction and a quicker recovery.

9) Supports healthy body composition – Walking supports overall metabolic functions, which are crucial for long-term weight management and health.

10) Improves sleep quality – Regular walking leads to more refreshing sleep. It enhances circulation rhythms, promotes relaxation, and decreases symptoms of insomnia and anxiety.

If you have thought about it, try walking. No expensive equipment needed – just a comfortable pair of walking shoes and a safe place to walk. Walk at a pace you’re moving briskly, but not overexerting yourself. You’ll see some sights, begin to feel better about yourself, and have an opportunity to clear your mind. If you’re a columnist, it might even provide inspiration for a Webb Weekly column!