This month, our Walkability series has not only featured some of Toronto’s most walkable neighbourhoods, but we’ve also discovered many reasons why travelling around the city by foot or bicycle is a great way to stay healthy and happy.
Walking is an extremely versatile activity - it can be done in the midst of a busy city or out in the wilderness. Walking is also an option for people of any age and fitness level, and most importantly, it’s great for your heart and easy on the wallet! Similarly, cycling puts far less strain on the knees and spine than jogging, and is an excellent mode of transportation for traveling around the city. Below we’ve listed some of the benefits of incorporating walking and cycling into your routine for just 30 minutes a day.
- Stay fit
The most obvious benefits of introducing a little more activity into your routine are the physical benefits. Researchers have discovered that regular exercise can help boost your metabolism, prevent weight gain, and maintain weight loss. Simply walking or cycling to work is a great way to incorporate weight stabilizing exercise into your daily routine!
- Get a good sleep
Walking and cycling expose you to daylight which helps synch your circadian rhythms, explains Professor Jim Horne of the Loughborough University’s Sleep Research Centre. Exercise also rids your body of a stress hormone called cortisol, which can prevent you from getting those deep sleeps that help you feel refreshed the next day.
- Boost your energy levels
In addition to helping us get a more restorative sleep, walking and cycling a few times a week can boost your energy levels. Physical activity forces your body to deliver oxygen and nutrients to your tissues to help your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. As you train your body, heart, and lungs to work more efficiently, you will have more energy to devote to work, spending time with the kids, or socializing on the weekends.
Biking through West Queen West
- Improve your mood
If you’re feeling down or stressed at work, a brisk 30-minute walk or bike ride can help you relieve stress and feel better. Regular exercise releases serotonin, a neurotransmitter that can reduce stress, relieve anxiety, and create a sense of well-being. Scientists have also discovered that after cycling or walking for just 30 minutes the brain releases mood-lifting chemicals such as endorphins and cannabinoids, which help you feel happier and more confident. People who engage in regular exercise are also able to balance hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which means they’re better equipped to handle anxiety-inducing situations than sedentary individuals.
- Perform better at work
In a recent study in the Journal of Clinical Diagnostic Research, scientists discovered that people scored higher on memory, reasoning, and planning tests after spending just 30 minutes on a stationary bike. Additionally, a pilot study conducted by an Alzheimer’s specialist and two architects found that “older adults who lived in more ‘walkable’ neighborhoods performed much better on cognition tests.” Studies have also found that individuals who exercised before work improved their workload management, were more motivated, and were better equipped to deal with stress.
- Prevent diseases
Walking and cycling are great for the heart and can be an excellent way to reduce your risk of chronic disease including heart disease, type two diabetes, and obesity. Incorporating some light cardio exercise into your day not only decreases blood pressure and cholesterol levels, but also helps the body become more efficient at regenerating new cells.
- Look younger
In addition to helping you work towards a healthy body weight, walking or cycling around the city can also help reduce the effects of aging on your skin. Exercise increases oxygen in the body and helps deliver nutrients to skin cells while simultaneously flushing toxins out of the body and increasing collagen production. This helps reduce the appearance of wrinkles. However, if you’re going out for a walk or a ride don’t forget to apply sunscreen!
- Control addiction (and promote healthy ones)
Walking and cycling help the brain release dopamine, a “reward chemical” that responds to pleasure. Many people become addicted to the substances that help produce dopamine, such as alcohol, food, and drugs. By promoting the release of dopamine, exercise can help us reduce our cravings for harmful substances and replace those vices with healthy habits!
- Reduce congestion in the city
By choosing to walk or cycle to work, you not only help yourself, but also the environment. During rush hour, the TTC becomes overcrowded and Toronto’s streets turn into gridlock. You can help reduce harmful carbon emissions and congestion in the city!
- Discover your city and meet new people!
If you’re looking for new ways to socialize or discover the city, walking and cycling can be a great way to explore the urban terrain and meet new people. Toronto has a number of walking and hiking clubs and cycling clubs for all levels. You might just find a new friend or a great social circle that will help you maintain your healthy lifestyle.
Getting more active doesn’t have to involve purchasing expensive gym equipment, joining a class, or spending hours of your day sweating. It can be as simple as cycling to work instead of sitting on the TTC, or choosing to walk to the grocery store instead of hopping in the car. As we’ve noted here - walking and cycling can also help you sleep, prevent disease, improve your mood, and contribute to a healthier city! This summer, strap on a helmet or lace up those walking shoes and hit the streets of your city.