The health benefits of walking fitness trackers can’t measure

Fitness trackers are a great way to monitor when and how much you exercise. They can also help you reach a daily fitness goal like 10,000 steps per day.

But while trackers can help you meet your fitness goals, there are other benefits from exercise that they can’t track. In fact, leaving your phone or fitness tracker at home might just help you focus more on the benefits of walking.

Chief Physician Officer, Geisinger System Services and Chair, Musculoskeletal Institute & Department of Orthopaedic Surgery Dr. Michael Suk said, “Exercise has more benefits than how many steps you take.”

Suk, who is also the Former Senior Advisor on Health and Recreation at the National Park Service, said, “It can lead to other benefits like increased creativity, improved mood and reduced stress levels.”

Walking is a great boost for your creativity. From Beethoven to Einstein to Steve Jobs, many famous people have credited their success to walks. In fact, famous philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche even said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”

But you don’t have to be working on a masterpiece to reap the benefits of a walk. Everyone can benefit from a short, daily walk.

“Your brain needs oxygen to work at its best,” Suk said. “When you take a walk, you circulate blood through your body and get more oxygen to your brain. This can help you think of new and more creative solutions to problems.”

In fact, a study from Stanford found that taking a walk can increase your creativity by 60 percent.

If you’re walking to boost your creativity, move at a leisurely pace for at least 10 minutes.

Besides being good for your body, walking can make you feel good, too.

“Walking releases ‘feel good’ chemicals like serotonin and endorphins, which cause a boost in mood similar to runner’s high,” Suk said. “After walking for 30 minutes, you may start to feel the effects of these chemicals.”

Low levels of serotonin are linked to depression and anxiety, so since walking raises serotonin levels, it can have anti-depressant effects.

Exercise puts your muscles to work, which helps take your mind off stress. A leisurely walk lets you focus on what’s around you.

This has led to a new trend called “forest bathing.” Forest bathing is when you take a technology-free walk in the woods to lower your stress levels and reconnect with nature.

During forest bathing, you should take time to focus on small things, like the rustling of the leaves or the sounds of the birds–similar to meditation.

Some studies have shown that forest bathing can reduce blood pressure, stress and make people feel calmer afterward–even more so than after a walk in the city. In addition, people tend to ruminate less on negative thoughts.

“If you want to try forest bathing, stay on well-maintained trails,” Suk said. “You’ll more easily focus on nature if you want to leave your smart phone, smart watch or tracker behind. But if you do that, be sure to let someone know where you are. And when you return from a walk in the woods, always check for ticks to avoid Lyme disease.”

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This is one of a series of articles provided by Geisinger on health and sports.

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