Walking Outside Versus Walking on a Treadmill
Recently I have been listening to the podcast “Katy Says,” which features biomechanist and author, Katy Bowman. One of the episodes discussed the many benefits of walking outside compared with treadmill walking. For example, walking outside results in greater extension (movement of the thigh behind the torso) and less flexion (movement of the thigh forward of the torso) of the hip joint, which has favorable effects on the psoas, a major flexor muscle that extends from the low back to the upper thigh. Since I am challenged by short psoas muscles, and the resulting tendency toward a sway-backed posture, I found this interesting.
Some of the other pluses of getting outside to walk were pretty fascinating as well. In addition to benefits on other large muscles, such as the gluteal muscles (which contract during hip extension and toe push-off), smaller muscles like the ciliary muscles in the eyes are affected by looking at objects at greater distances than we are able to do inside. The erector pili, tiny muscles responsible for lifting body hairs when you get goose bumps, are activated when we are exposed to cold air. And the stream of visual input we receive when walking outside, compared to the treadmill experience of going nowhere despite engaging in large motions, has positive effects on our nervous system.
Katy conceded that walking on a treadmill is a good idea if it’s your only option, but she also suggested thinking hard about whether it’s really your only option. I like to walk early in the morning when it’s often still dark, and I also enjoy the controlled environment of my exercise room. But when Dani Hemmat, host of Katy's show and a resident of Montana, mentioned that she walks outside even when temperatures are well below zero, I felt a bit cowed that I can be deterred by our comparatively mild winter conditions.
A Walk in the Rain
So on a recent Sunday, my good-natured husband agreed to accompany me on a walk outside in the rainy, 30-something-degree weather. We bundled up, headed out, and had an enjoyable, if slightly uncomfortable, time.
We also had a great conversation about how comfortable we are used to being, and how it probably would be really good for us to stretch beyond our comfort zones more.
Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
Moving beyond my comfort zone and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable have actually been big themes in my life the last couple of years, even though applying them to greater environmental hardiness is new.
A physical application of these concepts with which I am quite familiar is yoga. In asana practice (the practice of yoga postures), we learn to find equanimity in various physical positions. The intention is to bring calm attention to the present moment whether we are in a pose we like or one that is more of a challenge. This helps us realize that our happiness and well-being are largely dependent on our attitude rather than on our external circumstances.
Off the Treadmill and into the World
Like getting off the treadmill and heading outside, or holding a (safely) challenging yoga pose, stepping outside of my comfort zone in my daily life has been an extremely worthwhile practice. Seeking the path of least resistance and attempting to stay in my comfort zone at all times was, in part, what motivated me to pursue a career working from home as a writer. Although I do have a passion for writing and am blessed to work in my field—drug information—from wherever my husband’s military career takes us, this relatively isolated lifestyle reinforced my shy tendencies and shrank my comfort zone to an ever smaller size.
Fortunately, a number of life changes initiated a path of growth to a more balanced way of being. One outcome of this is that during the past year, over ten years after entering my first yoga teacher training program, I finally completed my certification and started teaching classes. It wasn't that I felt completely ready or that I wasn't afraid; I just did it anyway. Being uncomfortable is okay, and I don’t have to let it control my life and keep me from taking positive action. Once I started teaching I actually discovered that it felt quite natural, and it is remarkably rewarding.
Walking outside in less than ideal conditions is another way to work on the limits of my equanimity, so I plan to do it more often (unless it's icy—no need to get crazy!).