Three Huge Health Benefits of Walking

Three Huge Health Benefits of Walking

Why am I writing an article about the health benefits of walking in a blog about Ashland?  Well, my website is called WalkAshland, isn’t it?  I am walking for the fun of it, and for my own health.  I hope these articles about the streets and neighborhoods of Ashland will inspire others to walk more.  So here is a short introduction to three of the myriad health benefits of walking.

The next time you have a medical check-up, don’t be surprised if your doctor hands you a prescription to walk.” Harvard Medical School report

That is some powerful “medicine!”  Let’s see what Dr. Frieden, the head of the Centers for Disease Control from 2009 – 2017, said about walking.

Ashland is a Great Walking Community

Ashland is a great community to walk in.  Our citizens and city government leaders have made a conscious decision through the decades to keep Ashland as compact as possible, which encourages walking.

Lithia Park is a jewel of a park for taking short or long walks in any season of the year.  Beyond Lithia Park, community leaders committed years ago to create parks near every neighborhood in town, so everyone can relax in “a bit of nature.”

Speaking of nature, from the end of many Ashland streets we can access nature trails that lead into the Siskiyou Mountains and beyond, literally all the way to Canada or Mexico.

A mountain trail starts at the end of Liberty Street

Stress in Your Life?  Walking is an Anti-Stress “Wonder Drug”

Why would your doctor give you a prescription to walk?    The Harvard report goes on to say:

“Walking can even help your mood. A number of studies have found that it’s as effective as drugs for decreasing depression. It can help relieve everyday stresses, too. Tension starts to ease as the road stretches out in front of you. Mood-elevating endorphin levels increase.” (Harvard 2017)

When it comes to stress in life, it doesn’t get much tougher than having PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress). A recent study with women Veterans looked at the impact of walking on their PTSD stress.  The women took a brisk walk four times a week for 12 weeks.

The researchers reported that at the end of 12 weeks: “Both post-traumatic and depressive symptoms improved significantly by the end of study.”  In addition, the women who were interviewed said that walking helped both their emotions and their physical health. (Shivakumar 2017)

If a basic brisk walk four times a week can help reduce post-traumatic stress in women Veterans, think what it can do for your everyday stresses.  This gives an idea of the power we are talking about.

Need a Mood Lift?  Go for a Walk (preferably in nature)

Ashland, Lithia Park
Lithia Park, a favorite place to walk in Ashland

“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”  John Muir

I think we all know intuitively that time in nature can be relaxing and healing.  If you live in a city, you may find yourself drawn to the park on a sunny day, or heading for a campground in the woods on a 3-day weekend.  Surrounded by trees or flowers or desert or sky, you can feel “the weight” of many worries melt away, at least for a time.

What about the science?  Numerous studies describe the benefits of walking in nature, but this one by researchers primarily at Stanford University really intrigued me.  They compared people who took 90 minute walks in either a natural setting or an urban setting.  Here is what they found.

“Neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex, a brain region active during rumination – repetitive thought focused on negative emotions – decreased among participants who walked in nature versus those who walked in an urban environment.” (Bratman 2015/Jordan 2015)

In other words, people had fewer negative thoughts and less activity in this “mental-stress-promoting” area of the brain after walking in natural surroundings rather than along a busy street.  The study authors theorize that allowing people in cities access to natural areas could be important for maintaining positive mood and mental health as the world continues to urbanize.

So once again, hooray for Ashland parks and trails, and hooray for the commitment to planting many trees along busy streets.

Want a Brain Health Boost?  Yes, Go for a Walk!

Walking, brain
Walking stimulates new brain cells (graphic by GDJ on pixabay)

“Greater amounts of walking are associated with greater gray matter volume [in the brain], which is in turn associated with a reduced risk of cognitive impairment.”  (Erickson 2010)

One of the ways walking is able to boost mood is by improving brain health.  The ageing of the “baby boom” population and the increase in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease have led to a boom in brain health research.  We have learned in recent decades that the brain has significant “plasticity,” the ability to grow new cells, heal and change even in later life.  (Windle 2010)

One way walking supports brain health is by increasing brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is a protein that helps keep brain neurons healthy and even stimulates the creation of new neurons. Higher levels of BDNF are associated with better memory and overall cognitive health.  (Vaynman 2005)

Walking even increases the size of the brain, another indication of brain health.  Brain gray matter volume tends to shrink in old age, and this shrinkage is often associated with cognitive decline and dementia.

A study with 299 adults in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 65 years and older compared the amount of walking they did with their brain gray matter size 9 years later and their cognitive health 13 years later.  The people who walked the most had greater gray matter volume in all areas of the brain tested.  They also had less risk of mild cognitive impairment and dementia in the final set of tests.  (Erickson 2010)

So the next time you go out for a walk, enjoy knowing that you are receiving mood-lifting and brain health benefits along with the physical exercise!

Another trail that leaves from an Ashland neighborhood. This trail to the Oredson-Todd Woods and beyond starts at the end of Lupine Drive, which is off Greenmeadows Way.


Bratman GN et al. Nature experience reduces rumination and subgenual prefrontal cortex activation.  PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), June 29, 2015, described in “Stanford Researchers Find Mental Health Prescription: Nature” by Rob Jordan June 30, 2015:

Erickson KI et al. Physical activity predicts gray matter volume in late adulthood: the Cardiovascular Health Study.  Neurology. 2010 Oct 19;75(16):1415-22.

Harvard Medical School Health Report  (accessed 11/10/2017)

Shivakumar G et al. Exercise for PTSD in Women Veterans: A Proof-of-Concept Study. Mil Med. 2017 Nov;182(11):e1809-e1814.

Vaynman S & Gomez-Pinilla F. License to run: exercise impacts functional plasticity in the intact and injured central nervous system by using neurotrophins.  Neurorehabil Neural Repair.2005 Dec;19(4):283-95.

Windle G, Hughes D, Linck P, Russell I, Woods B. Is exercise effective in promoting mental well-being in older age? A systematic review. Aging Ment Health. 2010;14(6):652-669.

Poem: Geppetto’s Restaurant (1977 – 2011)

Following the theme of Ashland history from my previous post about 4th of July parades 100 years ago and more, here is more recent history.  Here is a poem about a favorite Ashland restaurant for 30+ years, that sadly is no more.
(Fuzzy photo of Geppetto’s front in the old days)

Geppetto’s Restaurant (1977 – 2011)

Your reputation precedes you
And brought me to your door –
Yes, the first door I entered
The day I first arrived in Ashland –
I entered to enjoy the “world famous eggplant burger,”
And I return for it again and again

Best eggplant burgers
Best parade wontons
Best wait-staff tattoos
Most unusual friendly wait-staff
Most stunning madrone wood sculpture
On the back room wall

Definitely an Ashland restaurant institution…
Where I feel right at home

(Written on my check: EPBgro, translated as eggplant burger with grilled onions – $6.75)

Peter Finkle, written July 30, 2009


Ashland 4th of July Parade – Historical Photos

Ashland 4th of July parade – historical photos

Independence Day (the 4th of July) is the biggest community holiday of the year in Ashland, Oregon.  The parade brings together more people than any other event of the year.  I was happily surprised that Ashland Mayor John Stromberg, during his speech at the Lithia Park bandshell this July 4th, recognized and thanked the thousands of people from all over Southern Oregon who attend the Ashland parade.

Community excitement for Independence Day is not new.  The 4th of July parade has been a big event in Ashland for more than 100 years.  Let’s take “a walk down memory lane” and look at parade photos from more than 100 years ago.


The oldest parade photo I have been able to find is from the late 1890’s, probably from the 1898 parade when America was in the middle of the short Spanish-American War that lasted from April 21 to August 13, 1898.  It was primarily a naval war, and the parade float in the shape of a battle-ship gives the hint for 1898.

Ashland 4th of July parade
Ashland 4th of July parade float, probably 1898

Ashland 4th of July parade
“W.A. Poley & Co. The Reliable Druggists and Stationers” float in the plaza – Ashland 4th of July parade, probably late 1890’s or early 1900’s


Here are a number of photos from the 1911 4th of July parade.

Ashland history
Ashland 4th of July parade 1911

Ashland history
Ashland 4th of July parade 1911

Ashland history
Ashland 4th of July parade 1911


Ashland got creative for the 1912 parade.  Do you think Briggs was a shoe store?

Ashland 4th of July parade
Ashland 4th of July parade 1912

Ashland history
Ashland 4th of July parade 1912

Ashland history
Ashland 4th of July parade 1912 (What is this float?)

Ashland history
Ashland 4th of July parade 1912 (very patriotic parade entry)


The 1915 parade photos focus on people of Ashland.

Ashland 4th of July parade
The Ashland Concert Band, precursor of today’s Ashland City Band – Ashland 4th of July parade circa 1915

Ashland 4th of July parade, circa 1915, in front of The Columbia Hotel (the hotel is still in business at the same place on Main Street more than 100 years later)


Does anyone know which community group’s Ladies Auxiliary is represented in this 1916 parade float?

Ashland history
Ashland 4th of July parade 1916

Two photos with dates unknown

I like Ashland being known as “The City Noted for Lady Equestrians.”

Ashland 4th of July
Ashland 4th of July – publicity poster?, date unknown

Ashland history
Ashland 4th of July parade, date unknown


My thanks to the Ashland Library for access to their historical photo collection.


Ashland 4th of July highlights – Part 2

Ashland 4th of July Parade – Recent Highlights Part 2.

Part 1 of our 4th of July parade recent highlights ended with a Bald Eagle.  We will start Part 2 with another dramatic Bald Eagle from Wildlife Images, which has been saving injured and orphaned animals since 1981.

Bald Eagle from Wildlife Images (2009)

Bands and Horses

When I think of traditional parades, I think of floats, bands and horses.  Ashland’s parade is definitely not traditional.  We don’t do well in the “floats” category.  We do better in the “band” category.  Thanks to the Ashland City Band and American Band College (photos shown in Part 1), we get to hear some rousing band music as we watch the parade go by.

Thanks to El Tapatio Mexican restaurant, we also have horses in the Ashland parade most years.  These are beautiful horses, even dancing horses that really impress me.  Enjoy the brief video clip below.

El Tapatio restaurant horses (2012)

El Tapatio restaurant – dancing horse video

Dogs of All Shapes and Sizes

Then we get into dogs of all shapes and sizes.  Here are a few to refresh your memory of funny dog moments from parades you have attended.  I remember in the 1990’s a community group used to walk with 15 to 20 wiener dogs (okay, dachshunds).  I was always amazed that those short-legged, sometimes big-tummied dachshunds could walk the entire parade route.  Below you will see a genuine 4th of July “hot dog.”

From big horse to tiny poodle (2010)

Friends of the Animal Shelter (2013)

Friends (and hot dogs) of the Animal Shelter (2010)

Canine Companions (2017)

Canine Companion in action (2017)

Princess Riding a Unicorn

This is not a horse photo.  This is a real princess riding a real unicorn.  They graced us with their presence here in the rough and tumble “real world” back in the 2006 parade.

Even unicorns! (2006)

More Ashland Community Groups

Here are photos of an assortment of community groups and students from years 2011 to 2017.  I am sure you will recognize many of them.  You might even be active in one or more of these community groups.

Returned Peace Corps volunteers (2011)

Boy Scouts (2011)

Ashland Food Bank & Food Project (2017)

Indivisible Oregon District 2 (2017)

Southern Oregon University football team (2012)

Ashland High School football – since 1898 (2014)

Two Ashland Businesses

Two Ashland businesses stand out for me as I remember many years of parades.  I already mentioned one – El Tapatio Mexican restaurant – in connection with horses.  They also bring colorful Mexican dancers who brighten the parade with their traditional dresses.

The other business that has grabbed my attention through the years is Southside Tattoo.  I am not personally a tattoo aficionado, but I have enjoyed their souped up cars and motorcycles.

Southside Tattoo business often enters cool cars or motorcycles (2011)

El Tapatio restaurant has beautiful dancers in the parade, in addition to horses, cars and more (2014)

More Tradition

Many kids love big trucks, especially fire trucks.  Ashland Fire & Rescue comes through with at least one big, bright, red fire engine each year.  I remember years ago seeing a dalmation in the driver’s seat.  In recent years, several youth have had the thrill of riding in the fire engine and waving to the crowd (but not driving the truck).

It wouldn’t be a parade without the fire truck – Ashland Fire & Rescue (2013)

Speaking of fire, Smokey the Bear says “Don’t play with matches.” (2013)

One more truck – Recology recycling truck (2017)

Youth Dance and Gymnastics

Judging from Ashland parades, many young girls (and a few young boys) participate in dance classes and gymnastics.  Seeing their enthusiasm and the moves of the older teens is one of my favorite parts of the 4th of July parade each year.

When you see the photos and video below, or when you see them in the parade, remember that they are doing dance moves and flips on hot pavement, generally on a hot day, for 1.1 miles.

Here are the entertaining youth dancers (2009)

Serious gymnastics skills on hot pavement for a 1.1 mile parade (2016)

YMCA gymnasts in action (2017)

Quirky and Serious

I will close with photos of people who are making a statement.

The non-GMO movement is strong in Ashland (2014)

Make Art Not War (2014)

The Final Parade Entry

For many years, the colorful and lively drum and dance group called Samba Like It Hot was the final group in the parade.  As they went by, people flowed out from the sidewalks into Main Street and followed them to the Plaza — and then on to food booths, craft booths and music at the Lithia Park bandshell.

For many years, the Samba Like it Hot drummers and dancers have closed the parade (2012)

Historical 4th of July parade photos: See my article with Ashland 4th of July parade photos from 100 years ago!


Ashland 4th of July highlights – Part 1

Independence Day in Ashland, Oregon

Independence Day (4th of July) is my favorite day of the year to be in Ashland.  It is coming up in a few days, so I decided to share some of my photos taken through the years.  I hope the photos will trigger fun memories for those of you who have attended multiple parades.

El Tapatio restaurant has beautiful dancers in the parade, in addition to horses, cars and more (2014)

For those who haven’t, this can be an introduction to the quirkiness, fun, community spirit and patriotism of Ashland’s 4th of July.  Or, as one of my San Francisco Bay Area friends put it, while shaking his head and rolling his eyes as one “strange” parade entry after another came by: “Only in Ashland.”

The Ashland Chamber of Commerce and the citizens of Ashland go all out from early morning until late at night to make this day special.  Fortunately, my wife Kathy loves Ashland’s 4th of July as much as I do.  We are able to walk to the parade from our home, which makes the day a bit simpler than needing to drive.  But the Chamber has parking lots and shuttle buses to simplify life for drivers as much as possible, since a huge crowd always attends the parade.

July 4, 2017 parade – Peter and Kathy

Pre-Parade Activity

Many businesses and community groups in the parade toss candy to the kids along the sidewalk.  This family provided very clear instructions!  They put their pre-parade time to good use.

Some kids use chalk for pre-parade preparation

The day always starts with a 2-mile fun run and a more serious 10K run.  This year the runs will begin at 7:45 am in front of the Ashland library.

The Flyover and Start of Parade

When it’s time for the big parade to start, the crowds wait in anticipation for a jet flyover.  Here are photos of three flyovers, including 2013 when it was a biplane flyover rather than jets.  Not as fast or as loud!  But still fun.  One friend told me the jets might not make it this year for the start of the parade, but I don’t know if that is true or not.

2012 parade – Jet flyover

2017 parade – Two jets flyover

2013 parade – Biplane flyover

Ashland police lead the parade (2010)

The parade begins at Triangle Park and ends just past the Plaza on Water Street.  Ashland motorcycle officers traditionally lead, followed by a Color Guard and then the Ashland City Band.

Color Guard approaching (2017)

Color Guard (2017)

Ashland Chamber of Commerce sponsors the huge parade and all-day celebration of our Independence

Ashland City Band (2014)

Ashland City Band close-up (2008)The parade Grand Marshal is usually a “famous” Ashland citizen.  Last year all veterans and active military were honored as the Grand Marshall.  This year two women who have each volunteered for the Ashland Chamber for more than 20 years will be the Grand Marshals.

2017 parade Grand Marshal – Veterans & Active Service men & women of the Armed Forces

Famous, and not so Famous, Politicians

Because the Ashland parade attracts so many people, Oregon’s United States Senators frequently come all the way to Ashland to be in the parade.  It’s a bit surprising that both Senator Wyden and Senator Merkley have chosen to walk the parade route rather than riding in a fancy car.  Not-so-famous politicians include local Mayors and City Councilors.

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden has been at the Ashland parade many times (2012)

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley has also attended the Ashland parade

Every year, there is a delegation from Guanajuato, Ashland’s sister city in Mexico.  The Guanajuato Queen does ride in a fancy car.  She and the other delegates from Guanajuato will say a few words during the afternoon celebration at the Lithia Park bandshell.

The Guanajuato Queen from Ashland’s sister city Guanajuato, Mexico attends each year (2008)

Eclectic Community Groups in the Parade

Now we find out why people who are used to “regular” parades, like my friend from the S.F. Bay Area, get “thrown for a loop” at the Ashland parade.  The community groups who parade in Ashland are an eclectic bunch.  As evidence, I present the bagpipers and the hula dancers.  That’s why I love this parade so much!

One of my favorite entries is the Bagpipers (2007)

Hula dancers in the parade (2010)

Hyla dancers close-up (2008)

It’s not just our community groups that come up with eclectic parade entries.  So do our religious and spiritual groups.  From Jewish, to Fundamentalist Christian, to Easter Orthodox Christian, to “Only Kindness Matters,” be prepared to be surprised.

Temple Emek Shalom klezmer band (2007)

Jesus in the parade (2007)

Archangel Gabriel Orthodox Church (2017)

Spiritual rather than religious (2016)

The American Band College

The American Band College is a summertime Master’s degree program that takes place at Southern Oregon University each year.  We citizens of Ashland get to benefit when this talented group of musicians plays for us, both in the parade and also the evening of July 4th.  They have enough band members to fill up three flat-bed trucks during the parade, so it’s a full sound…complete with truck air-horn accompaniment!  They perform a concert at 8 pm in the evening at Ashland High School football stadium.  It is extra-special because they continue to play at 10 pm throughout the fireworks display, and those who attend the concert have “the best seats in town” to see the fireworks.  In Part 2 of this post, I will tell you other places in town where I have gone to watch the fireworks.

American Band College (2017)

American Band College players (2008)

Peace Corps Volunteers, Belly Dancers and Readers

Here are more eclectic community parade entries, from Peace Corps to belly dancers to fans of the library.  Ashland is home to many readers, many bookstores and a very active library.

Returned Peace Corps volunteers (2009)

Circus Tribal Belly Dancers (2010)

Friends of the Library

Friends of the Library (2013)

I will end Part 1 with an iconic American eagle, courtesy of Wildlife Images, an organization in Grants Pass founded in 1981 to care for sick, injured and orphaned wildlife.

Wildlife Images Bald eagle (2007)

In Part 2, we will meet more animals, community groups, dancers and gymnasts.  In addition, I will share a few photos from the afternoon activity that takes place at the Lithia Park bandshell.

This is where real patriotism takes place.  When was the last time you read or heard the entire Declaration of Independence?  If it has been a long time, I recommend that you hear it live in Lithia Park, so you can remember what a radical idea the United States of America was when it was founded.

Historical 4th of July parade photos: See my article with Ashland 4th of July parade photos from 100 years ago!