I was walking my dog on the sea wall the other day while keeping a mental tally of how many runners would pass by and say "hello", "good morning", "nice day", or anything resembling a greeting or acknowledgement that there was someone else in the world. Approximately ten (this wasn't a very controlled study by any means) runners passed me by without a word, without eye contract, without a smile. This morning, the same thing happened. For the record, when I initiated the greeting, it was a crap shoot. Some would reciprocate and others would ignore it. It was also noted that most, if not all, walkers would offer a greeting or respond in kind when I greeted them. Hmmmmmm.....interesting. I would be interested to see if anyone has done any real research on this. Why are walkers more connected?
Why does this frustrate me so? It could be my 25+ years in the fitness industry and working along side university and Olympic level athletes. The culture of sport and exercise supports a focus on self, a focus on individual performance, and takes away from the focus on community, connection, and the like. What's most interesting is there is a large body of research looking at the health benefits of connection and the power of greeting (a.k.a. saying "hi" to someone you are sharing the path with). Physiologically, social connection has much of the same benefits as does physical exercise. A sense of connection can decrease heart rate and blood pressure while reducing the nasty hormones related to chronic stress. More importantly, it can strengthen the immune system function (while intense running over long periods of time can lead to reducing it).
By acknowledging someone passing on the street, you are not only benefiting from all the great physiological effects of this, but you are connecting with others...and that benefits them too. A sense of community is built on social connection. Good health is the product of a wide variety of practices...not just running and eating carrots. Good health comes from emotional awareness, social connection, intellectual challenges, and a sense of being a small part of something bigger (i.e. spirituality). This isn't just bumper sticker bullshit, this is firmly stated in decades of research (it just doesn't have a half naked, beautiful 12 year old on the cover and empty promises to get our attention). What frustrates me more than anything is the runner, triathlete, or anyone engaged in sport specialization that believes what they do is better or healthier than the person walking 30 minutes a day with friends while enjoying a good belly laugh. They are truly doing themselves harm and a disservice as they chart their miles and drink their Gatorade (sorry...I realize I am stereotyping...it saves me time that way).
People are always asking me what is the best exercise. Based on everything I have learned, read, researched, and experienced over the years, I finally have an answer that encompasses most of it. If you want to reduce your risk of injuries, chronic disease, stress, and depression while enhancing your cardiorespiratory system (all important considerations for a mobile, healthy, and happy old age) while maintaining a strong immune system function.....(drum roll please)....walk for 30 minutes a day, outside, and with a friend. No flash, no yoga pants or matching shoes required. There's no sexy message or picture of a ripped, emaciated women on the cover. No empty promises have to made here, just walk.
....oh...and say "hi" to those passing you by!
|Eddie and Karl provided this wonderful|
example of what to do while out in the
community. Thanks guys!