Walk Your Way to Better Brain Health

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Exercise is being shown to be perhaps the most important factor in keeping healthy—physically and mentally—as we age. Exercise changes the way our brain functions and grows, improving the quality of our whole life experience. When we walk fast, regardless of our age, we produce new cells in the hippocampus, the brain area that plays a key role in turning short-term memories into long.

Until fairly recently it was thought that the brain remained static after childhood, but early studies in the new and exciting field of neuroplasticity have proven that the brain’s neural pathways and synapses change due to changes in behavior, the environment, emotions, thinking, and, yes, exercise.

In Norman Doidge’s exciting new book, The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity , he says, “Walking, so natural, so ‘pedestrian,’ may not be a high-tech neuroplastic technique, but it is one of the most powerful neuroplastic interventions.”

He also devotes a chapter in his book to the inspiring story of John Pepper who staved off the debilitating effects of Parkinson’s Disease with fast walking and (the and is important) concentrating and focusing his mind on his body’s movements.

Sound familiar?

In ChiWalking and ChiRunning, you are asked to focus your mind and retrain your body to move in new and improved ways. As it turns out, you’re not only improving your posture and core strength. Your brain, as well, responds very positively to focused concentration on the body’s movements.The medical profession, backed by recent studies, is now proposing that walking speed may be added as one of the key vital signs (the others being heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate and body temperature). Two PhD’s, Stacy Fritz and Michelle Lusardi write:

“Walking speed is ‘almost the perfect measure.’ A reliable, valid, sensitive, and specific measure, self-selected walking speed, also termed gait velocity, correlates with functional ability and balance confidence. It has the potential to predict future health status and functional decline including hospitalization, discharge location, and mortality.”

Yes, your walking speed is considered one of the key indicators of how long you will live, as well as when you might need to be hospitalized and when you can subsequently go home. Who needs a psychic when your walking speed can tell you so much about your future?

So, walking has not only been shown to be a reliable predictor of mortality,  it has been found that improving your walking speed can improve your ability to move through challenging health issues.

John Pepper’s most significant relapses took place because of injury. ChiWalking is all about preventing injury so you can consistently get exercise by walking. Here are some ways to improve your walking speed without getting injured.

Technique and distance always come before speed. Don’t go out and start walking faster. Practice good ChiWalking technique at your regular speed and add some distance before you start adding in speed. Build up to at least 2 miles, walk that distance consistently for 2 weeks, at least 3 times a week, preferably more, then start adding speed.

  1. Use a metronome as your walking speed will directly correlate to your strides per minute (spm). In ChiWalking you will increase your spm to go faster.
  2. Make sure your upper body and shoulders are pressing against the air in front of you and use your legs as little as possible to increase your speed.
  3. Practice good arm swing. ChiWalking is whole body walking. The upper body is just as important as you legs.
  4. Add a little bit of ChiRunning if you feel able. Adding in a bit of light ChiRunning will build your capacity to walk faster or just add in some cardio walking intervals where you walk beyond your normal, aerobic pace for 1-3 minutes.

So, folks, if you want to maintain the quality and quantity of your life, it’s time to lace up those shoes and add a consistent and mindful practice of ChiWalking exercise to your life.

Your brain will thank you.

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