Walking every day? Why not kick it up a notch and add some educational oomph, a little sensory immersion, or a four-footed friend? A walk can be an opportunity to take in some lung-strengthening fresh air, and that is reason enough to get up and get out. According to the National Institutes of Health, walking outdoors increases a protein called BDNF (Brain-derived Neurotrophic Factor) which encourages the growth of new brain cells, in addition to lowering blood pressure and reducing your risk of a heart attack, sometimes by as much as 35%, depending on the pace and the miles. Not to mention exposing you to sunlight, a natural source of bone-strengthening, and immune-boosting Vitamin D.
Who could ask for anything more?
Well, there could be more. Here are some suggestions if your daily stroll is getting old.
1) Why not learn Spanish or Mandarin (or whatever floats your linguistic boat) while you’re on that trail or city street? In 30 minutes a day, you could be listening to and practicing a whole new language. There are countless free, trial, and fee-based audio courses in dozens of languages and formats. All you need is your phone, earbuds or headphones. Consider News in Slow French or News in Slow Spanish, or Coffee Break Chinese or Coffee Break Italian, tailored to the learner at any level on the move. Or get connected to a for-real native speaker and have a walk and talk, you in English, He/she in (the language of your choice). Check out Hellotalk.com.
2 Get smart. Or smarter. With a brain game that you can play on the move. Websites like brainhq.com, (designed by a team of international neuroscientists) give you a variety of mental challenges that will make those miles feel like minutes.
3) Increase your musical IQ. Researchers tell us that listening to music lowers cortisol levels and can even reduce pain. Try auditing lectures on How to Love Opera, Beethoven, Bluegrass, or Indie Rock. Let the engaging Professor Robert Greenberg’s “How to Listen to and Understand Great Music” on Great CoursesPlus.com change your attitude about classical music and opera in this 40-plus lecture series — a true treasure trove.
3) Tune into your inner self. Try walking meditation (known to Buddhists as kinhin) to dampen jitters and arouse joy. A profound and pleasurable way to deepen our connection to body and the earth, says Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. You can add a mantra of your choice or enjoy the gift of pure silence as you put one foot in front of the other. Or get centered with the soothing sounds of vibrating Tibetan bowls or ancient Gregorian chant, widely available on YouTube and from your favorite podcast provider. Or sample the sounds of rainforests, white noise, Irish Coast, and more at mynoise.net.
4) Level your walk up to a cardio/strength training session. Add handheld or ankle weights and pick up the pace. Or try race walking. It’s not walking, not running but a wicked calorie-burning hybrid. As invigorating as running and much kinder to after-40 joints.
5) No companion animal? Take your walk with someone else’s dog. Local senior services can hook you up with an elderly and/or housebound neighbor whose pet needs the exercise they can’t provide. Or sign up to be a regular walker for the local animal shelter. Wet nose, hot heels, everyone wins.