Tag Archives: walking

Take a hike

The lure of “the gym” has always escaped me. I’ve joined a few fitness centers in my day, but I consistently end up abandoning the gym and resorting to my preferred route to fitness: walking. Whenever possible, I walk and hike in the great outdoors.

A host of recent studies has validated my faith in the benefits of walking. And some of these benefits may surprise you.

First, being active is better for your health. Duh. We’ve all suspected that for a long time. But here’s a new finding: sitting may be the real problem. Studies show that the more you sit, the greater your risk for health problems. In a study of more than two thousand adults ages 60 and older, every additional hour a day spent sitting was linked to a 50 percent greater risk of disability. Even those who got some exercise but were sitting too much were more likely to get dumped in the pool of disabled people.

Dorothy Dunlop and her colleagues at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science concluded that sitting seems to be a separate risk factor. Getting enough exercise is important, but it’s equally important not to be a couch potato the rest of the time. Their study appeared in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health in 2014.

Another study, published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, noted something else about prolonged sitting: taking “short walking breaks” at least once an hour may lessen or even prevent some of the adverse effects, especially on the cardiovascular system. When healthy young men sat for 3 hours without moving their legs, endothelial function—the ability of blood vessels to expand and contract—dropped significantly from the very beginning. But when they broke up their sitting time with slow 5-minute walks every 30 or 60 minutes, endothelial function did not decline.

Here’s another benefit: Exercise, including walking, can keep you from feeling depressed. A British study, reported in JAMA Psychiatry, followed over 11,000 people (initially in their early 20s) for more than 25 years. It found that the more physically active they were, the less likely they were to have symptoms of depression. For example, sedentary people who started exercising 3 times a week reduced their risk of depression 5 years later by almost 20 percent. The researchers concluded that being active “can prevent and alleviate depressive symptoms in adulthood.”

Ready for one more reason to walk? A study described in The Wall Street Journal in 2014 found that walking can significantly increase creativity. This is a brand new finding. In the past, studies have shown that after exercise, people usually perform better on tests of memory and the ability to make decisions and organize thoughts. Exercise has also been linked anecdotally to creativity: writers and artists have said for centuries that their best ideas have come during a walk. But now science supports that link.

Researchers at Stanford University, led by Dr. Marily Oppezzo, decided to test the notion that walking can inspire creativity. They gathered a group of students in a deliberately unadorned room equipped with nothing more than a desk and a treadmill. The students were asked to sit and complete “tests of creativity,” like quickly coming up with alternative uses for common objects, e.g., a button. Facing a blank wall, the students then walked on the treadmill at an easy pace, repeating the creativity tests as they walked. Result: creativity increased when the students walked. Most came up with about 60 percent more “novel and appropriate” uses for the objects.

Dr. Oppezzo then tested whether these effects lingered. The students repeated the test when they sat down after their walk on the treadmill. Again, walking markedly improved their ability to generate creative ideas, even when they had stopped walking. They continued to produce more and better ideas than they had before their walk.

When Dr. Oppezzo moved the experiment outdoors, the findings surprised her. The students who walked outside did come up with more creative ideas than when they sat, either inside or outside, but walking outside did not lead to more creativity than walking inside on the treadmill. She concluded that “it’s the walking that matters.”

So a brief stroll apparently leads to greater creativity. But the reasons for it are unclear. According to Dr. Oppezzo, “It may be that walking improves mood,” and creativity blooms more easily when one is happier. The study appeared in The Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition in 2014.

In truth, I don’t need these studies to convince me to keep walking. It helps that I live in San Francisco, where the climate allows me to walk outside almost every day. Walking is much more challenging when you confront the snow and ice that used to accompany my walks in and around Chicago. So I’m not surprised that walkers in colder climes often resort to exercising indoors.

It also helps that San Francisco has recently been voted the second most walkable city in America. According to Walk Score, an organization that ranks the “walkability” of 2,500 cities in the U.S., SF placed just behind New York City as the most walkable major American city.

SF’s high score is especially impressive in light of the city’s hills. Although I avoid the steepest routes, I actually welcome a slight incline because it adds to my aerobic workout. Why use a Stairmaster in a gloomy gym when I can climb uphill enveloped in sunshine and cool ocean breezes?

But whether you walk indoors or out, do remember to walk! You’ll assuredly benefit health-wise. And you just may enhance your creativity quotient. Someday you may even find yourself writing a blog like this one.

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Audrey Hepburn and Me

I never thought I had a single thing in common with Audrey Hepburn.  She was tall and decidedly slim.  I’m short and, uh, not exactly slim.  She was a brunette with enormous brown eyes.  I’m a redhead with almond-shaped but not-so-enormous hazel eyes.  She was a famed film star who won an Oscar at 24 (for 1953’s Roman Holiday) while my adolescent dreams of becoming an actress never became reality.

So I never saw myself as having anything in common with this glamorous star of the ’50s and ’60s.  But a quick glance at a recent magazine article has convinced me that I have a few things in common with Audrey after all.

The article, appearing in the May issue of Vanity Fair, is based on a new book, Audrey in Rome, written by her younger son, Luca Dotti.  Luca lived with Audrey in Rome from the time of his birth in 1970 until she left for Switzerland (and he went off to a Swiss boarding school) in 1986.  As the magazine cover proclaims, in his book he recalls “the secrets of her iconic style.”

What were some of these secrets?  Well, for one thing, she was “fond of kerchiefs tied under the chin (not wound around and fastened in back in the French manner).”  Her love of sous-chin kerchiefs is apparent in a 1970 photo showing Audrey in a fabulous Givenchy coat and a scarf tied under her chin.

According to Luca, Audrey’s scarves were “a bit of a vice.”  Although she wasn’t “like Imelda Marcos and shoes,” she had “maybe 30 or 40” scarves.  In Rome, she often wore them along with big sunglasses as a disguise, enabling her “to do her shopping without having…crowds” following her.

This is one style-revelation I share with Audrey Hepburn.  My love of scarves, like hers, could be called a vice, but in view of the small amount of space they occupy and the small sums of money they cost, they’re a pretty harmless one.  I have a colorful collection in every possible fabric, suitable for every season, some bestowed on me as charming gifts, others purchased by me in a weak moment.

I admit I’ve never had crowds following me.  But I wear scarves (usually tied under my chin) for my own reasons.  In chilly weather, they keep my head warm.  On warmer days, they shield my curly hair from humidity and wind.

Childhood photos taken by my father show me, like Audrey, wearing scarves tied beneath my chin.  Ever since then, I’ve worn scarves no matter where I’ve made my home—from Chicago to Boston to Los Angeles.  Now, living in breezy San Francisco, I almost never leave home without a scarf in my jacket pocket, prepared to withstand whatever breezes the ocean blows my way.

Some have ridiculed my penchant for wearing scarves.  A friend once muttered that I liked to wear “babushkas.”  That hurt.  But now I can point to Audrey Hepburn as a scarf-loving style icon who, like me, wore scarves tied beneath her chin.

Another secret revealed by Luca is Audrey’s choice of footwear.  Generally basing her style choices on “simplicity and practicality,” she preferred to wear ballerina flats and low heels.  Vanity Fair claims that she wore them partly to accentuate her long feet, “adding to her elegant attenuation.”  (Huh?  Do you know any women with long feet who want to accentuate them?)  But even VF admits the far more likely reason:  she wore them so she “could walk comfortably.”

So here’s another preference I share with Audrey.  Long ago I gave up wearing high heels.  Like Audrey, I like to stride purposefully through the city, and wearing anything but low heels makes that impossible.  Every day I see women struggling with high heels that inhibit their freedom to move through life with ease.  I ache to tell them to forgo those high heels, and like Audrey and me, walk comfortably and safely wherever they go.

[Please note:  I’ve written another post on this blog, “High Heels Are Killers,” explaining at greater length my opinion of high heels.]

If truth be told, when I was younger, I wasn’t a big fan of Audrey Hepburn.  Maybe it was the way Hollywood portrayed her that was to blame.  After Roman Holiday (in which she fell in love with reasonably age-appropriate Gregory Peck), she was paired with male leads who were far too old for her.  At 28 she was supposedly smitten by Gary Cooper, then 56 (and looking even older), in Love in the Afternoon and by 58-year-old Fred Astaire in Funny Face.  I found these pairings simply baffling.  Why would radiant young Audrey fall for men twice her age?  At the time, I was unaware of the way Hollywood worked back then.  It’s clear to me now that she was complying with the demands of the movie moguls who dictated most of the roles she played.

No wonder she confided to friends that her favorite role was that of the nun in The Nun’s Story.  No superannuated men were slobbering over her in that role!

My view of Audrey Hepburn evolved as I learned more about her.  In her later years, she became an activist on behalf of UNICEF, traveling to more than 20 countries around the globe to advocate for the world’s most vulnerable children.  Her advocacy has endeared her to me, a fellow advocate for the underprivileged.

Moreover, during those years, she openly chose to welcome growing older.  Luca remembers that she “was always a little bit surprised by the efforts women made to look young.”  By contrast, “she was actually very happy about growing older because it meant more time for herself, more time for her family, and separation from the frenzy of youth and beauty that is Hollywood.”  She saw aging as part of the circle of life.

Audrey liked to say that “true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It’s the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows. The beauty of a woman only grows with passing years.”

Some may remember Audrey Hepburn as a stunning style icon, but in my view, she should be remembered for much, much more.