WHAT I DID FOR MY SUMMER VACATION
The whole point of taking a vacation is to recharge your batteries. No matter how important or how much we love our jobs, there comes a time when we need to get away. For maximal recharging, I suggest that you try a physically challenging vacation. By exercising your body you not only benefit from aerobic exercise, but you free your mind of stressful thoughts.
Last month my husband and I took a week long hike along the southwestern coast of Ireland with the Country Walkers group. Walking allows you the opportunity to see a country in a way most travelers miss. Instead of watching the landscape whirl by from a car window, walking allows you to immerse yourself in the setting. The beautiful unspoiled landscape was beyond amazing. Each day we did a morning and an afternoon hike, usually for about 10 or 12 miles total. The walks were challenging without being unrealistic. The natural beauty was often breathtaking as we made our way over fields, through blooming heather, and up hills and mountains to view the panorama of the magnificent coastline.
I must admit, I did not know very much of Irish history before my vacation. Our Irish guides – Pol and Dubhaltach Colmain, a father son team – provided a wealth of knowledge about Irish history and customs. In addition to the physical exercise, it was a pleasure to get a little history lesson.
The hikers were a diverse group; mostly, professional individuals of differing ages and fitness levels. The majority of them were veterans of other walking trips. What they all had in common was the desire to move. One of them was a past marathon runner. And remarkably, one hiker even walked with a healing foot fracture!
Benefits of walking
Walking is simply the very best exercise anyone can do. It strengthens the heart, lungs and muscles. Daily walking has been shown to substantially lower the risk for cardiovascular disease in both men and women. Because walking works the large muscles of the legs, which require oxygen, your heart and lungs get a workout as well. Because walking is a weight bearing activity it makes bones stronger. If you have been diagnosed with either osteoporosis or osteopenia (an early form of bone loss), it is imperative that you begin a walking program. Walking relieves stress and eases depression. You know the old saying, “walk it off” for dealing with frustrations; recent studies have shown walking improves mood and reduces stress. Heart, lungs, muscles, bones and mind are the beneficiaries. In fact, there are no negative studies on the benefit of walking as an exercise regimen!
Add to the list the extra benefit of being outside in a beautiful setting and you have the perfect vacation.
Living in Manhattan, I was struck by how clean the air was in Ireland! Numerous studies have found air pollution in cities to be linked to increased rates of mortality and morbidity. Last year The New England Journal of Medicine featured an article that confirmed an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (heart attack and stroke) for women exposed to poor air quality.
What is there about air pollution that harms us? Air pollution is determined by the amount of tiny particles that are suspended in the air. The major outdoor-air pollutants are sulfur dioxide, ozone, carbon monoxide, and nitrogen dioxide. The pollutants come from the burning of fossil fuels, factory fumes, and automotive exhaust. Because our lungs are sensitive to inhaled foreign substances, the airways constrict in an attempt to prevent the entry of the invaders. The protective constriction can raise the risk for heart arrhythmia (irregular heart beats). Additionally, each of these particles is so small they are able to cross the thin walls of the air sacks and enter into the circulation, causing an inflammatory reaction. Inflammation is an initiating event in heart attacks. Inhaled air pollution causes the blood to thicken, raising the probability of clots.
Impressively, Ireland is a country that decided to do something about their air pollution problem. After the Irish government placed a ban on the burning of coal in Dublin, the rate of cardiovascular deaths fell by 10.3%. It is estimated that the ban resulted in 243 fewer cardiovascular deaths per year.
Walking through the beautiful green Irish countryside and breathing the clean air is invigorating. Air quality is something that we all need to be concerned about. Poor air quality affects us all. But the good thing is that it is something that we can change. Control of air pollution represents an important intervention to prevent disease.