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Walk off pandemic pounds and gain brain health … briskly
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Walk off pandemic pounds and gain brain health … briskly

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There have been some real upsides and downsides for those working at home during the height of the pandemic. Working in your sweat pants – upside. Homeschooling kids while you try to work from home – downside. Shaving when you felt like it, or skipping the makeup – upside. A short walk to the refrigerator – downside.

Putting on the quarantine 15 (pounds) – Some of us exercised more during the pandemic, and some of us exercised less. Nobody has yet done an assessment of how COVID-19 has impacted the nation’s weight – in fact, there are reports that some people are losing weight. But Dr. John Morton, medical director of bariatric surgery at Yale New Haven Health System, says he has seen patients in telehealth appointments who have gained up to 30 lbs. “Anecdotally, we are definitely seeing weight gain,” Morton says. “You can put on 30 lbs. really quickly – you can do it in three months.”

Nothing fancy – Three months? We’ve had a year and a half to pack on the pounds. Now that many of us are reentering the “real world,” how do we get back into our work clothes? True, we’ll need to cut back on the comfort food, but one easy thing we can do to put ourselves back on the right track (pardon the pun) is walk. Yep, nothing fancy. Just a brisk walk.

Living longer – A brisk walk is under-rated and under-appreciated as a health tool, but it has numerous benefits for the body, mind and soul. First – it’s free. But additionally, according to a study published in British Journal of Sports Medicine, regular walking at a brisk pace was associated with a 20% reduced risk of "all-cause death." According to a study of 450,000 people published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, faster walkers have better odds of living longer than slower walkers – regardless of their body-mass index (BMI). On average, slow female walkers lived to about age 72, while faster female walkers lived to age 87. Men who walked briskly lived to roughly 86, while slow male walkers had a lifespan of 65 years. According to one top scientist, walking more at a brisk pace can add upward of two decades to your life.

Brain power – In another recent study to determine the effect of different kinds of physical activity (dancing, stretching, walking) on the brains of seniors, older men and women who walked for six months showed improvements in white matter and memory, while those who danced or did stretching exercises did not. The study showed that white matter, which connects and supports the cells in our brains, remodels itself when people become more physically active. Of the groups, the brisk walkers were more aerobically fit and performed better on memory tests.

Lighten your mood, and your load – Walking, along with other forms of physical activity, has cumulative, consistent and positive effects on physical and mental health. That includes people with chronic mental health issues such as major depressive disorders. Exercise, including walking, may prevent depression from ever afflicting someone. Specifically, walking in nature has been found to lower activity in a part of the brain associated with depression.

Physically, many of the body's systems can benefit from walking, says Dr. Cedric Bryant, president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise. He adds that if you’re walking to manage your weight or lose weight, you’ll probably want to walk for longer, up to 45 to 60 minutes of walking most days. That doesn’t have to be all at once, though. A 30-minute morning walk and a 20-minute walk after dinner would count.

So, lace up your sneakers – and head out for a brisk walk, in the opposite direction of the refrigerator.

Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln (HealthyLincoln.org) and LNKTV Health (LNKTVHealth.lincoln.ne.gov) bring you Health and the City, a monthly column that examines relevant community health issues and spotlights the local organizations that work to impact the wellness of our community. Send questions or comments to jpearsonanderson@healthylincoln.org.

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