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.

REFERENCES

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: https://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/

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.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20944075

Harvard Medical School Health Report  (accessed 11/10/2017)
https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/walking-for-health

Shivakumar G et al. Exercise for PTSD in Women Veterans: A Proof-of-Concept Study. Mil Med. 2017 Nov;182(11):e1809-e1814.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=shivakumar+g+2017

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.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16263961

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.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20686977

Liberty Street Walk

How can Liberty Street start and end at Siskiyou?

I walked Liberty Street on a windy, partly cloudy afternoon in April 2018.  Liberty Street has an Ashland Tree of the Year, architecture from historic to modern, not just one but two “Little Free Libraries,” and access to Ashland’s extensive trail system.

Here’s how Liberty Street can start and end at Siskiyou — it goes from Siskiyou Boulevard to the Siskiyou Mountain Range. 

You’ll find tiny Triangle Park where Liberty meets Siskiyou Blvd.

Triangle Park

Triangle Park

Triangle Park tends to be quiet.  You might see high school students eating lunch in the charming gazebo during the school year, or young people walking slack lines attached to the posts in the park.  The one day Triangle Park comes alive with a “boom” and a “bang” is the 4th of July.  When Ashland’s huge Independence Day celebration rolls around, parade headquarters is at Triangle Park.  It becomes a beehive of organizers, marching band members and honored guests ranging from locals, to Oregon’s U.S. Senators, to our Sister-City Queen and city council members from Guanajuato, Mexico.

A few steps from the park, you will see a historic bungalow-style house built in 1910, called the Grubbs Rental House.  There are many historic houses on Liberty Street, but this simple one caught my eye to share with you.

Historic 1910 bungalow

Lovely Garden and Healing Massage

At the corner of Alaska Street, Joseph and Janie enlisted some of their friends to turn a large lot into a beautiful cooperative vegetable and fruit garden.  Let’s see how many of the fruits in their garden I can remember: cherries, blueberries, raspberries, mulberries and gooseberries.  Yes, they like berries.  Sorry, they are not for public consumption!

Joseph and Janie are both massage therapists with the business name Advanced Myotherapy.  Janie also teaches Eden Energy Medicine all over the world, but I have benefited from her healing skills in both massage and energy medicine, without going any farther than Liberty Street.

They have the most amazing camellia bush I have seen in my life, and I have seen many.  Is it still a “bush” when it’s two stories tall?  The dramatic two-story camellia is hard to see from the street, so I am including photos of it here for you.

 

 

 

 

Anyone who walks or drives on Liberty Street will remember this colorful house.

Some people love it and some think it sticks out like a sore thumb. I’m in the “love it” camp. Traditional neighborhoods where all homes are built in the same style or similar colors can be aesthetically pleasing. But there is freshness that comes with variety, and Liberty Street has variety.

I would like to point out the beautiful, colorful tulip garden in the front yard of this colorful house.  Notice the deer fence, without which the tulip garden would not exist.

Short Ashland Deer Rant

I may go on a rant about the Ashland deer from time to time as I write my Walk Ashland articles.  The number of plants that Ashland deer do not eat seems to be shrinking from year to year.  For example, the first 15 years I lived in Ashland, the deer did not touch the Hypericum in my front yard.  Now they eat it regularly.  At least rosemary, lavender, daffodils and iris seem to be safe for the present.

Little Free Library

A few steps up the street, I came to the first of two “Little Free Library” stands on Liberty Street.  This book sharing movement began in 2009 when Todd Bol of Hudson, Wisconsin placed the first Little Free Library in his front yard.  There are now over 65,000 registered Little Free Libraries in over 80 countries around the world!  (And many more not registered with the official group.)  Ashland has at least six in total.  I will find them all as I walk every street in town.

Little Free Library

Dramatic Trees

Liberty St is home to two striking trees that caught my eye.  The first, at 391 Liberty St., is Ashland’s 2001 Tree of the Year.  Each year residents nominate favorite trees around town, the Tree Commission narrows the selection to a few, and then residents vote for their top choice.  The 2001 choice is a majestic Blue Atlas Cedar.  My photo through the electric wires doesn’t do it justice.  You have to see it for yourself.

Blue Atlas Cedar, Ashland Tree of the Year 2001

The other tree, toward the top of Liberty, is a very unusual Ponderosa pine.  Before this, every Ponderosa pine I have ever seen was straight as an arrow, reaching for the sky.  Not this one.  It forks, and then forks again.  With tall trees, I have read that a lightning strike can destroy the crown of the tree and lead to a forked top as the tree strives to continue growing. This tree looks like it just decided to be different.

Ponderosa pine near top of Liberty St

Here is a close-up of the forked section of the Ponderosa pine.  Does anyone have an explanation how or why this tree is so different?  If you do, please leave a note in the comments.

Ponderosa pine near top of Liberty St

Architecture Old and New

Ascending Liberty Street, I took photos of two houses with contrasting architectural styles.  This is another example of the variety of houses on Liberty.  If you like traditional, here is one for you – on the 500 block.

If you prefer modern, you might like to view this one on the 600 block.

If you love bedtime stories, this one might be more to your liking.

“The Road Goes Ever On and On”

Finally, arriving at the top of Liberty Street, you have the option to leave the city streets for the world of trails.  From here, you can connect with a variety of trails and forest service roads that will take you almost anywhere.

End of Liberty Street, Ashland – start of mountain trails

As Bilbo said to Frodo in Lord of the Rings: “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

From the top of Liberty Street, as well as from many other streets in Ashland, you can follow trails to the top of Mt. Ashland. If you are really swept off your feet, you could end up walking all the way to Canada or Mexico on the Pacific Crest Trail.

I hope you have enjoyed walking Liberty Street with me.  Stay tuned for the next installment.