The alarm clock gongs at 4am, even though I’ve already awoken naturally out of habit. This signals to Bally the Dog that it’s time to jump on my bed for a few minutes of morning belly rubbing before I get up and go immediately to the computer to spill the contents of my subconscious (I finished this article by 4:51am). This is my magic time where I write faster than at any other time of the day.
Finally, at around 6am, it’s dog walk time. Bally the Dog comes downstairs, we suit up for whatever elements the Toronto morning plans to throw at us that day, and we start up the short hill to Starbucks. We don’t go in, but I peek at the baristas beginning their morning routine, and then we head down a big hill to the first off-leash section of our path.
(You can imagine our journey like the footsteps traced in one of the old Family Circle cartoons. Me playing the role of little Jeffrey, and sometimes, depending on what he ate the day before, Bally literally playing the role of Barfy the Dog.)
In the gulley where Bally gets to go off-leash for a few minutes, he likes to sniff and leave his mark, and excitedly greets every other dog before continuing on his merry way. Next we turn and head toward the beach where the Parks and Recreation Department of Toronto has generously provided a large off-leash area for dogs right on the water so that Bally can swim in Lake Ontario. And he does, all year round. There’s no water too cold for a Labrador Retriever.
All of this is part of our exercise regimen for the day, but according to Dr. Steven Blair, an exercise researcher at the University of South Carolina, we could have turned for home before heading for the beach (on our first of 4 dog walks each day). In just 30 minutes, Dr. Blair says, I would have garnered all the physical activity necessary to reduce my mortality risk by 50%.
According to Dr. Blair, it’s not obesity that is shortening our lives, but the lack of physical activity. And no, you don’t need to channel your inner Tony Horton or Craig Ballantyne for an intense, sweat-dripping, heart-pounding, metabolism-boosting workout three to six days per week in order to get heart and health benefits. The doctor prescribes just thirty minutes of walking per day.
For many ETR readers, I’m sure that comes as a welcome relief. You’re busy, you’re stuck in Wisconsin in the dead of winter or Singapore in the stickiness of summer, you’re in three airports today as you make your way from Cleveland to Louisville to Tennessee to visit suppliers, or frankly, the thought of sweating voluntary turns you off. That’s fine. Anyone, anywhere, can find a way to get thirty minutes of brisk walking. Research even shows you can break up the exercise into three 10-minute blocks and you’ll still achieve the health benefits.
But there are more than just wellness advantages to walking. If you still need another argument to take up this strange new fad of putting one foot in front of the other, consider what it will do for your work. I guarantee that you’ll be more creative during these thirty minutes of exercise than you would be stuck in front of the computer for another hour (outside of your magic time).
In fact, research shows that getting up and away from our regular work environment leads to greater creativity. That’s one of the reasons that you get so many good ideas in the shower. And remember, the apple didn’t fall on Newton’s head while he sat in his study.
Exposing ourselves to non-work related environments allows our brains to come up with ideas that we wouldn’t get otherwise. Combined with the increased blood flow from exercise, and you have a one-two punch for problem solving and generating some of your best ideas of the day. Don’t ignore this opportunity to improve both your health and the quality of your ideas.
Anytime of the day is acceptable for getting your thirty minute walk, provided you aren’t visiting Dubai in August (if you are, you’ll probably want to skip the lunchtime energy-boosting outdoor walk).
A morning walk can help you clear your head or organize your thoughts for the day. It’s also going to be the easiest time for you to fit in your walk before the events and emergencies of the day steal your time.
A lunchtime walk may boost your mental alertness and help you avoid the afternoon lethargy that comes from a heavy meal that many people mistakenly choose to eat at noon. This also allows you the opportunity to invite a colleague on your walk so that you can work through a problem outside of the regular office environment while benefitting from the increased creativity of a new environment.
Hitting the road after work can bring you multiple rewards. You’ll get the health, creativity, and energy boosting benefits, plus it will keep you out of the kitchen and away from that mindless pre-dinner snacking that often ruins an otherwise excellent day of eating high-quality nutritious food.
Finally, there’s one more time of day where a brisk 30-minute walk can be a secret weapon for your health. Research shows that moderate exercise after a meal high in fat and calories can help immediately lower harmful levels of blood triglycerides. If you tend to overindulge at dinner, whether a bad habit at home or due to a business dinner with colleagues, you can mediate some of the damage by scheduling your daily walk after dinner instead of falling asleep in front of the TV.
The power of something so simple, a thirty minute walk inserted at any time of the day, seems almost hard to believe. But Dr. Blair insists that if you add moderate daily physical activity to your routine, you’ll be able to dramatically improve your health and lifespan. You’ll also increase your bone density and remain more mobile into your later years.
This doesn’t mean you can ignore the importance of eating whole, natural, high-quality foods and minimizing your intake of man-made diet disasters like French fries, pie crust, and chips (three of the worst offenders for your heart and health). Good nutrition – and avoiding bad food – is vitally for your health and longevity.
It would also be wise for you to include at least two short sessions of resistance training each week to stay strong and further increase your bone density. Plus, if you want to build a beach body, it’s going to take more than a brisk walk. You’ll need metabolic resistance training and intervals.
However, if nothing else, adding a thirty minute brisk walk to your day appears to be the vital first step in lifelong health and wellness.
Get a good pair of shoes, consider a furry companion who will get you moving every day (free personal trainer!), and look forward to becoming more creative at the same time as improving your health.
[Ed. Note. Craig Ballantyne walks his dog up to four times per day and at this rate expects to live to be 217 years old. When walking your dog, he recommends you avoid streets known to have stray cats as a 72 pound chocolate lab can almost pull your arm off when it sees one of its natural enemies. Craig is also the author of Financial Independence Monthly and Turbulence Training – his trademarked home-based metabolic resistance training workout system that will help you burn fat infinitely faster than walking or jogging.]The Most Important 30 Minutes of Your Day,