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Podcast: How 21-Minute Walks Can Greatly Impact Your Health

Lace up those sneakers! Dr. Christine Marschilok joins the latest episode of The Health Nexus Podcast to validate walking as a legitimate form of exercise and break down its many benefits.

Some might not consider walking to be a legitimate form of exercise. Dr. Christine Marschilok, a sports medicine specialist, is not one of those people. In this episode, hear about the many health benefits, both physical and mental, associated with a short stroll every day. Dr. Marschilok discusses the recent report conducted by Harvard Medical School which analyzed data on the health benefits of walking and concluded walking just 21 minutes per day can reduce your risk of heart disease by 30%.

Dr. Marschilok also discusses the “Hot Girl Walk” a fitness trend made viral on TikTok and created by Mia Lind. The concept is accessible and simple – walk every day, focus on your goals, feelings of gratitude and positive self-image.

This episode was recorded live in Washington Square Park in Philadelphia and just happens to be 21 minutes long. We’re challenging you to lace up your sneakers and listen to this episode while getting your own walk in!

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[Main photo credit: ©Thomas Jefferson University Photography Services]

Complete Episode Transcription

Jessica Lopez: Hello and welcome back to The Health Nexus Podcast, powered by Jefferson Health. My name is Jessica Lopez, co-hosting here with Carly Williams, in person, at Washington Square Park in Philadelphia.

Carly Williams: It’s a particularly chilly October morning, and we’re excited to be here with Dr. Christine Marschilok for a 21-minute morning walk.

Jessica Lopez: Some might call it a hot girl walk, or maybe today it’s a chilly girl walk.

Carly Williams: Dr. Marschilok specializes in sports medicine and family medicine. She’s going to break down why walking is most definitely a legitimate form of exercise and all the benefits it reaps.

Jessica Lopez: We would love for this episode to inspire you to take your own walk. In fact, you could pause the podcast right now, lace up your sneakers and listen to it while you’re walking.

Carly Williams: And friendly reminder to make sure you’re aware of your surroundings during this walk.

Let’s meet Dr. Marschilok and get going!

Let’s start with the health benefits associated with walking. Dr. Marschilok, what would you say are the physical benefits?

Dr. Christine Marschilok: Walking is a great form of exercise.

It gets your heart rate up. It’s good for your bones and your muscles, and it’s really accessible for a lot of people. And the physical benefits of walking are similar to that of exercise in general. There’s a reduced risk of diabetes, blood pressure, cholesterol, reduces your risk of things like heart disease and stroke and it has actually been shown in a lot of research studies to reduce the risk of cancer.

It keeps you mentally sharp. There’s some research to suggest that it might mitigate onset of dementia. And for women, and some men in adulthood, it helps keep your bone density strong as things like osteopenia and osteoporosis might happen. And then on a mental health side, exercise is really helpful for mental health and can really be helpful in treating conditions like depression and anxiety.

Carly Williams: And do you need to be walking at a certain pace for 21 minutes to reap these benefits?

Dr. Christine Marschilok: I actually have done some research on this, looking at what step count is evidence-based in terms of reducing the risk of things like heart attack or stroke and I’ve also looked at the pace too. And it actually turns out once you [reach the] correct for total number of steps a day, the pace really doesn’t matter. So as long as you’re getting out and walking, you can take a stroll, you can go for a power walk, really up to you.

Carly Williams: So, if you’re wearing a smart watch or a heart rate monitor, is there a certain rate that you want to be hitting for 21 minutes?

Dr. Christine Marschilok: It really depends on what your goal is but just getting out and walking and hitting those step counts can be beneficial for your health. There are some studies that look at heart rate and generally our exercise guidelines that are put out by the CDC do recommend more moderate and vigorous activity, which obviously correlates with your heart rate, but really, just getting out and getting those steps in can be really beneficial for your health.

Jessica Lopez: Well, that is good news. Has walking 21 minutes replaced the goal of walking 10,000 steps?

Dr. Christine Marschilok: So, I think it’s an interesting question and where did that 10,000 steps come from anyway? There are some researchers at Harvard that were curious about that, and they looked back to see where this 10,000-step goal came from. It actually came from a marketing campaign for a Japanese speedometer that was developed in the sixties.

And it I think because it’s a nice round number and is a generally decent goal for most people, it’s stuck over the years. Like I said, there have been some research studies since then that have actually showed about 7,500 steps a day is a sweet spot in terms of reducing your risk of things like heart attack and diabetes. So I think if we’re all shooting for 10,000, then maybe we’ll get to that 7,500 more on an average basis.

Then, the recommendations for exercise came about a few years, and the CDC recommends that we get 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise. So, what does that mean? So, I guess if you divide 150 up by seven, you get about 21, which is where this 21-minute/hot girl walk came from.

And moderate intensity activity just means that your heart rate is up and that you can still carry a conversation, but that you’re [mindful of your] breathing [and noticing] you’re a little bit out of breath. The guidelines are to base it more on minutes per day, but honestly, I think both goals, either goal would carry weight and so, whatever you want your goal to be, I’d say just pick one and it’ll get you out there and get you active.

Carly Williams: And for those with weight loss goals, is walking 21 minutes enough to actually get you there?

Dr. Christine Marschilok: Yes. We talked about the CDC’s recommendation in terms of that 150 minutes of exercising and sometimes that can be helpful for people for weight loss.

Weight loss is extremely complicated and honestly, we don’t fully understand it but a big part of weight loss is exercising and so walking definitely gets you to that aerobic exercise goal of 150 minutes per week. The other part of that recommendation is two days of strength training, including most of your major muscle groups per week and taking a break and doing some lunges or pushups or getting those hand weights out to do some power walking can be really helpful, too. Obviously, all of this is going to be in conjunction with a healthy diet, focusing on a lot of fruits and vegetables and lean meat and protein as well.

Jessica Lopez: When we were talking about the health benefits. It was interesting when you talked about how walking is a weight-bearing exercise.

Dr. Christine Marschilok: Mm-hmm.

Jessica Lopez: What exactly does that mean?

Dr. Christine Marschilok: Our bones respond to the signals that they’re given. When we’re born, we have really soft bones and then as you start walking, that’s how your bones become harder to support your weight. Similarly, in life as we go on through hormone changes, as you change stages of life and into adulthood, and especially women after menopause, there are some hormonal changes that affect your bone density, and so one of the ways to help mitigate that is by telling your bones that they need to be stronger.

Walking is a weight bearing exercise. You’re putting weight through your bones as opposed to something like swimming, which while it is a terrific form of exercise, is not weight bearing because the water takes a lot of your weight off.

Walking or jogging or other activities, Zumba, aerobics, that you’re actually putting weight through your bones, signals to your bones that they need to become stronger to withstand that stress. Folks who have osteopenia or osteoporosis, who are borderline or low bone density, I’ll encourage them to engage in a weight-bearing exercise program, and one of the most accessible forms of weight bearing exercise is walking.

Jessica Lopez: For someone who wants to incorporate a strength training to do after [walking], because I’m assuming you should do the strength thing after your walk cause you’re warmed up? And what could that look like? [For] someone like me, who does no strength training, could have [as] an easy thing to go to.

Dr. Christine Marschilok: Absolutely. First of all, you’re right, I would encourage you to do some strength training after you’re already warmed up. It’s better to strengthen those muscles when they’re already warm. Just like if you think of a cold rubber band that’s easy to snap versus a warm rubber band that’s more stretchy. Definitely warming up beforehand as a good idea.

There are a lot of resources online these days, especially after the initial couple years of the pandemic of free strength training exercises. There are different YouTube channels you can check out. One resource in particular that’s actually evidence-based was designed in the healthcare industry, is the Johnson & Johnson’s “7 Minute Workout” app, which is a free app. There are a lot of seven-minute workout apps out there, but specifically the one that’s made by Johnson & Johnson is evidence based. You can put in your fitness level whether you’ve never done any strength training before, your age, if you have any medical problems and they give you a seven minute strength training workout.

Now it’s pretty rapid fire. It’s pretty quick paced. And you do basically a different move for 30 seconds and they take you through a seven-minute workout. But it’s easy. You can say whether or not you have any equipment or not. And if you have no equipment, it focuses just on body weight. And research on the app has been shown to help with some disease processes, that’s a really great resource that I’ll often give patients.

Jessica Lopez: That is a pro tip.

Carly Williams: Yeah, we need to check that out.

Jessica Lopez: And do you want to comment, Dr. Marschilok, in our prior conversation you talked about leaning into being an old lady when approaching walking?

Dr. Christine Marschilok: Yeah, absolutely! We talked about how to incorporate some strength training while you’re walking, make that a little bit more efficient and cover all of your bases. Put your leg warmers on and get some hand weights out and really lean into feeling like an old lady and your mom, who always used to go out power walking during the day! I think it can be a really great way to get both your strength and aerobic training in.

Jessica Lopez: If somebody is just starting working out and walking, would you recommend giving yourself some time just walking before strapping on ankle weights?

Dr. Christine Marschilok: I think that’s a really good idea. I think giving your body a lot of time to adjust to a new exercise program is really helpful for improving stamina gradually and preventing injuries.

When I’m talking with patients about this, I’ll ask, “What do you do right now? How are you active? What do you do during the day? And if it’s, ‘I walk to the grocery store and that’s three blocks away,’ I’ll say, ‘Great. Do you think you might be able to go for a four or five block, one walk once a day and kind of gradually increase from there?’”

Just meet yourself where you are, and then gradually increase. Starting just with your body weight and then gradually adding as you’re feeling more comfortable just to give yourself a little bit of a challenge.

Jessica Lopez: And that kind of leads to my follow up question on, do you have any advice for somebody who’s struggling to adopt a regular workout schedule? Different ways that you can keep yourself accountable?

Dr. Christine Marschilok: It’s so hard, right? I feel like every evening. I say, “I’m gonna wake up early in the morning and exercise before work,” and then every morning when my alarm goes off, I shut it off and I say, “I’ll work out after work,” and the cycle just continues.

There are some things that can be really helpful. One of the things that I’ve anecdotally noticed myself, or for a lot of friends or patients, is that having a buddy to work out with is really helpful. You don’t want to let that buddy down and not be there to work out with them. And so, finding a friend who’s also interested in getting a little bit more active and going on hot girl walks together, would be a great idea.

Another way to help motivate yourself a little bit is find something that you really like to listen to while you’re going [for a walk]— like podcasts, maybe this podcast or some music that you really enjoy. Make this your time, make it a little bit meditative and find something that makes you happy or motivates you that you look forward to while you’re walking.

Philly has some really great walking and running groups. And so maybe look into finding a group that you can walk with, and again, having a little bit of that buddy system and accountability. And then overall, like we talked about, just remember, just start small and gradually increase from there. These small changes should feel like a little bit of a good challenge, but not too uncomfortable to discourage yourself.

Jessica Lopez: If you’re walking with us, consider the bell your signal that you’re halfway through your walk!

Carly Williams: And, I’m curious, whether you’re a new walker or, you know, seasoned walker, what tips would you recommend for getting new sneakers or making sure that you’re in the proper apparel?

Dr. Christine Marschilok: Generally having a good pair of supportive sneakers is helpful. Make sure they fit well, especially if you have some medical conditions like diabetes, you want to make sure that your feet are well protected. In general, just making sure you have well-fitting shoes, so anybody at a shoe store can definitely help you with that and then just wear comfortable clothing that allows your skin to breathe and you to kick off some sweat.

But really the nice part about walking is there’s really not much equipment involved. You can really just slap on your comfortable walking shoes and get out there.

Jessica Lopez: Do you need to do the 21 minutes at once or could you do 10 minutes in the morning and then take little breaks throughout the day? Does that count?

Dr. Christine Marschilok: There have been research studies recently looking at this exact question, right?

We all live in this chaotic world where we have so many different responsibilities all the time, so is it easier, is it more accessible, if we break those chunks of exercise up into smaller bits to fit them in at different parts of our day? And the answer is yes! It’s really your total amount of exercise per day.

So if you can go out for a 10 minute walk before you had to work and then go out for one at the end of the day or at lunch, those would be terrific for your overall health.

Jessica Lopez: And what is your take on the “hot girl walk” trend?

Dr. Christine Marschilok: When I initially heard the term “hot girl walk,” the uber feminist in me was a little bit annoyed, honestly. I was like, can’t we call it something, some other positive adjective other than objectifying a woman’s appearance? But when you get, when you read about the “hot girl walk” and the purpose of it, it’s actually a really positive activity or a positive idea.

When you’ve read about the inspiration for the “hot girl walk,” it’s really about being active and thinking positively about yourself. The three rules of the “hot girl walk” is that you’re walking, first of all, that you are thinking about things that you’re grateful for, your goals and how you’re going to there and then how awesome you are.

It’s really just any positive adjective combined with exercise. It could be the “hot girl walk” or the “awesome envy walk” or the “cool boy jog.” It really doesn’t matter. It’s just about being positive about yourself and getting out there and being active. So once I read a little bit more about it, I was more happy about it.

Jessica Lopez: That’s fair. And it was created during the pandemic, by the TikTok influencer Mia Lind, who is an undergrad communications major at the University of Southern California. And to your point about how accessible walking can be to so many people, it makes sense that during the pandemic where we had very limited options on how we could move—we couldn’t go to the gym—that walking became so popular.

Carly Williams: Since it is called a “hot girl walk,” do you want to explain some of the benefits specifically for women?

Dr. Christine Marschilok: Specifically for women, especially after menopause, bone density can be such an issue. We worry about osteopenia and osteoporosis in postmenopausal women.

Walking is such a great form of weight bearing exercise to really help curb the normal or expected bone loss, bone density loss that happens, as you grow older, and can also help promote bone density improvement or bone density.

Carly Williams: And I would think that there’s a lot of great benefits for mental health too, right?

Dr. Christine Marschilok: Absolutely. We all know that endorphins make you happy and exercise get gives you great endorphins. There have been a lot of studies showing that exercise is really effective in helping manage things like depression and anxiety and really should be part of our first, honestly, our first initial treatment for a lot of mood disorders, in conjunction with some other things too, obviously.

Carly Williams: What are some of the ways that we can find mindfulness during our walks?

Dr. Christine Marschilok: I think that’s a great question. When we’re walking a lot for a purpose, right, to get from point A to point B, our mind goes and spends time thinking about what the task is at hand that you’re getting to at that next point—but practicing mindfulness while you’re walking could be really helpful for helping calm anxiety and just giving you us increasing your sense of wellbeing.

Either listening to some music that you really enjoy and focusing on the music that you hear or focusing on some other senses. Right now, we’re walking in the beautiful park on this nice morning day and there’s beautiful fall foliage and the leaves are changing. Even without talking to people, just appreciating the beautiful things that you see around you. Or if in you’re a nice place where the scent is nice as opposed to Philadelphia where it might not be the best sometimes. [laughs] My husband and I were lucky enough to be hiking where there [the air was fruit-scented]. Just appreciating the different senses that you’re experiencing can be really helpful for just being more mindful and appreciating where you are in the moment helps quiet your mind down from the day-to-day chaos.

Carly Williams: Definitely. Are there any breathing exercises you could do while walking, or is that kind of…no, you should just breathe in and out. [laughs]

Dr. Christine Marschilok: Yeah. I think while we’re walking, we should probably just let our body do what it needs to do in terms of breathing. There are some other breathing exercises that can be used for things like anxiety and clearing your head but I probably wouldn’t encourage ’em while we’re exercising.

Carly Williams: Okay, good.

TRANSITION MUSIC

Carly Williams: So let’s just go through it. We are walking. Check. We are learning a lot and enjoying our time with Dr. Marschilok. Check. And, Jess, what would you say?

Jessica Lopez: We’re being mindful of the park, of the foliage, of all the cute dogs.

Carly Williams: We are feeling good.

Jessica Lopez: Yes.

Dr. Christine Marschilok: And we’re thinking about our goals for ourselves and how to get there.

Carly Williams: And we’re very grateful for this talk, so thank you for joining us on our “hot girl walk,” Dr. Marschilok.

Dr. Christine Marschilok: Thanks for having me. It’s been really fun.

TRANSITION MUSIC

Jessica Lopez: Well, I am convinced. I want to take more 21-minute hot girl walks. Want to be my accountability buddy Carly?

Carly Williams: Count me in! And friendly reminder that we publish full episode transcripts on TheHealthNexus.org. Check the show notes for that link.

Jessica Lopez: We also wanted to give you all a preview of our next episode. We interviewed clinical psychologist, Dr. Virginia O’Hare, about how to reconnect with your sense of purpose in this COVID aftermath limbo period we seem to be in.

Virginia O’Hayer: …This idea of, alright, COVID was this big, huge scare and kind of a wakeup call to like, what do I want to be about?

So, you know, maybe you’ve just been sort of coasting on autopilot and then having this like huge existential threat, can turn on this kind of light bulb of, what do I want to be about? And I think of that as like your big why, right? Which is like, why is it worth the risks that you take to show up during COVID, right?

Like, to go to work and help patients who might have COVID to, keep plugging on, despite the fact that like the medical system is like falling all around you, but also like, what’s your big why in the sense of why is it worth going to this social gathering with people where it’s true there probably is a risk of getting COVID.

Why is it worth it? Why is it worth risking the discomfort of like getting kind of back and like using your like rusty socialization muscles. And I think that knowing kind of what’s that big why can really help to motivate you instead of it just being like, this is something I should. I feel like I can often tell myself like, “Oh, I should get up with like those other moms because I haven’t seen them in months.”

But if I can kind of connect it to something that I want to be about, then it’s more motivating, it can be more enjoyable. Not feel like yet another task. And your big why could be kind lofty. I think about my big why for work is I really want to help to empower people who are really feeling burned out by COVID to find their purpose and double down on that and live great lives and help their patients. And I also have other big why’s, like getting paid and supporting my family, that sort of thing. So big why could be concrete or could be kind of more lofty, but figuring that out, what do you want to be about? What are your values? What do you want to stand for? And that can really help to kind push forward towards the thing even if it’s uncomfortable.

Carly Williams: Watch out for that episode to drop later this month. If you enjoy our podcast, we truly appreciate a rating on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. We love your feedback!

Jessica Lopez: Production support for today’s episode provided by Brit Raach and Barbara Henderson we’re your hosts, Jessica Lopez…

Carly Williams: …and Carly Williams. Thank you for listening!

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