If you follow me on Instagram or have read Hangry, you know I’m a very big fan of walking.
You can catch me daily in my Instastories on a #mantrawalk. My moving meditation, my time to get my head right and #bemybestfriend. You can or course listen to podcasts or music but whatever you choose, you’re gonna want to get those walks in.
Five walks per week is one of the Five Habits from Hangry. It’s a powerful tool that can help heal nearly all hormonal issues. It is cortisol normalizing, insulin sensitizing and tends not to exacerbate more delicate hormonal issues such as low cortisol, low thyroid and high inflammation. As well, research shows that walking makes us and our brains happier.
When I tell women I want them to walk more as a cornerstone habit to help their health, hormones and happiness they say one of two things:
Um, nice idea but I don’t have time for a 45-60 minute walk every day.
But Dr Brooke, isn’t walking just too easy? I mean aren’t I better off doing something more intense?
To the first response I say, trust me when you start walking you will find the time – you’ll love it that much.
To the second I say, for some of you (again, those low cortisol, low thyroid, high inflammation, delicate autoimmune, etc.) this may be movement you tolerate best. And yes, maybe you need to start at 10 minutes instead of 60 but it will be part of your healing.
To those that are used to more intense workouts but are now dealing with the delicate hormones I just mentioned such as low thyroid or low cortisol, walking is going to allow you to keep moving and not exacerbate your hormones.
Finally, to those who aren’t dealing with dicey low cortisol or low thyroid, but rather high cortisol, insulin resistance or are going through perimenopause walking is an important part of your entire regimen that should still include strength training and maybe more intense metabolic training or cardio as well. In this case, it’s an important adjunct to these other types of training.
There really isn’t a hormonal imbalance or scenario where I don’t recommend walking – even if your health is great, it’s still an important healthy habit.
Here are a few ways to harness the power of walking:
Fasted workouts are a topic of debate in the fitness world. There is the long standing position that our glycogen (stored sugar) is low in the morning when you wake up and exercising closer to empty will help you tap into fat stores and aid in weight loss.
Science on this has been mixed when it comes to fat loss though. It is one of those things in my opinion that really just needs to fit your hormones, preferences and goals when it comes to hitting the gym before breakfast. For some it works great and provides favorable body comp changes or simply feels better to some people who prefer not to have eaten prior to a workout.
Other women, especially those dealing with low thyroid or low cortisol, will feel too low energy during their workout and/or have a significant increase in appetite after a fasted workout.
However, walking is low intensity enough that most people will feel fine doing it without eating in the morning. This can prolong your fasted state a bit and start your day off with some movement and fresh air…and a better mindset.
A Moving Meditation
About a decade ago I decided to fill all those times when I’m waiting in line, waiting on hold, sitting in traffic, etc. with focused work on my mindset. Using mantras to change old unhelpful ways of thinking, get myself out of a funk and generally create a more positive mindset overall – and it changed my life.
When I was healing from a torn hamstring several years ago, for several months walking was the only thing I could do and I was frustrated. And I too thought that walking just wasn’t intense enough to do anything – and if felt like it just took forever! What better way to transform that frustration than use that time for mindset work? And just like the the #mantrawalk was born.
You can most definitely use your walking time to learn something from a podcast (like mine!) or audiobook, check out of reality with some of the amazing story-telling style podcasts we have now, catch up with a friend on the phone OR you can use that time to cultivate more mindfulness and do a #mantrawalk.
No right or wrong here, but I do find that when women use this time to create a more positive, hopeful mindset the benefits of a walk are really super charged.
A #mantrawalk is simply choosing a mantra and then repeating it or contemplating it throughout your walk. In Hangry, we gave mantras each week to help with each of our five pillars – the perspectives we teach throughout the book to help you be happier and less stressed.
Get a printout of all the mantras from Hangry in this week by week guide.
Some of my favorites mantras for my walks are very simple and I go back to them time and time again:
Everything is OK.
I am OK.
I am so happy and grateful for….
I love you.
By all means make it your own! I find that the best mantras are ones that transform a way of thinking that’s not serving you right now such as nothing is working out, being unhappy with your body or health, etc. Ask yourself what’s the opposite of this way of feeling? There’s your mantra!
Need help? Sarah and I recorded an album with Sarah’s guided meditations and five mantra walks with me. I created a short track with mantras that go along with the Five Pillars. Check it out wherever you get your music!
It’s called Sarah & Dr Brooke’s Meditations and Mantras and it’s available on iTunes, Google Music, Spotify, Pandora, etc.
Walking outside has so many benefits beyond a bit of fresh air. We know sunlight boosts serotonin and vitamin D but beyond that, research shows that walking outside also boosts your immune system by increasing neutrophils and natural killer cells to help fight and stave off infections.
More on simple things you can do to boost your immune system and keep yourself well here.
And let’s face it between our phones and our computers we spend a lot of time staring at screens so not only is full spectrum light from the sun great for our brains and hormones (especially cortisol and especially in the morning) but walking outside also allows us to visually focus on things far away rather than a foot from our eyes which also helps our stress response.
Being outside can have added benefits if like me, you’re a worrier. This research in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, showed that time in lush nature reduced ruminating and worry. (2)
I also love the sense of community I get from walking around my neighborhood. With all the noise and hustle of NYC, it’s nice to slow down and wander around my Brooklyn hood and take it its unique architecture and vibe and feel in such appreciation for living here. It’s also a chance to run into people you know and give a smile and hello – boosting oxytocin for both of you.
There are of course times due to weather or safety concerns that walking outside is simply not an option. In that case walking on an indoor track or throughout a mall or shopping center can be an alternative, as can walking on a treadmill.
Treadmills are convenient for sure, but they don’t support your natural gait mechanics the way walking on the more stable ground does because the belt moves you along and doesn’t push back with the same force as the ground. They often exacerbate problems with knee alignment, flat feet, weak pelvic floors and low back pain, again because of the way the belt moves you forward. So be mindful of alignment and core stability if you are walking on a treadmill and pay attention to any new or worsening pain.
A walk after eating is a great way to avoid a big insulin spike, especially if you have PCOS or insulin resistance. You can do this any time but it can be especially useful if you’ve over done it by eating more than you meant to in general or having more carbs or calories than what works for you.
Wondering what works for you when it comes to carbs? Check out this post on finding your Unique Carb Tolerance.
Walking will put some of that fuel to use before you can store it as either glycogen (stored sugar) or fat, help your digestion feel less sluggish and you less full and tired. If you deal with insulin resistance or again, if you have PCOS, you can feel more tired after eating (especially if you’re overshooting your carb tolerance), can have increased cravings for more starch or sugar or feel an increase in appetite after eating even though you know you shouldn’t still be hungry.
You may know you have insulin issues based on lab testing or a previous diagnosis. If you’re not sure be sure to take my quiz to learn more.
To be very clear: utilizing walking after a meal is in no way meant to be punishment for eating something or even overeating. It’s simply a tool that can help your hormones handle bigger meals, increased carbs, etc. How we do what we do matters. You can walk to aid your insulin and lower inflammation with the mindset of being your best friend or you can walk to “work off” that bad, bad thing you just did. I prefer the former.
The latter, as a response to “work off” something you ate or as punishment is not what we’re talking about here, so just watch your internal talk and utilize walking as a way of supporting your hormones not punishing yourself. Remember #nourishnotpunish.
After A Workout
When you exercise you liberate stored fat and glucose. The type of exercise and your nutrition will dictate which of those you’re using to fuel your workout, but remember just because you release this stored fuel during a workout doesn’t necessarily mean it gets “burned” or utilized.
If that liberated fuel is not oxidized or burned during or soon after your workout you can absolutely restore it. One way to avoid that is simply going for a walk after a workout.
As well, you release cortisol during exercise – cortisol gets a bad rap but this is a normal response to the stress of exercise and cortisol actually spurs fat burning. After a workout, you want to bring your stress response back down and a walk, as well as the restorative breathing we talk about in Hangry – are a great way to do that.
There ya have it! 5 ways to really harness the power of this hormonal balancing and happy making movement!