The age old cliché, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away,” could be replaced with, “A walk a day keeps the doctor away!” What is not to love about one of the simplest things you can do for your health? Walking as a form of exercise has been shown to have numerous benefits to one’s overall health. Walking is also free, can be done any time and anywhere, needs no special skill or equipment and can be beneficial for individuals at any fitness level.
Research has shown that walking for at least 30 minutes a day may effectively improve:
- Blood pressure and blood sugar levels
- Blood lipid profile
- Memory and concentration
- Sleep habits
Walking may also reduce the risk of developing the following conditions:
- Coronary heart disease (the number 1 killer in the US)
- Breast and colon cancer
- Non-insulin dependent (type 2) diabetes
Along with these health benefits, walking has been shown to enhance mental well-being by improving your mood and reducing depression. It may also reduce body weight, lowering the risk of becoming obese.
Now that you know the benefits, you will need a few essentials before hitting the road.
- Walking shoes. Ensure that you have lightweight, breathable, and supportive footwear. Walkers land on their heels and roll over to the front of the foot to push off their toes. Ensure your shoes are cushioned at the heel. Try your shoes on with the socks you plan to wear.
- Clothing. Dress for comfort and the weather. Wear synthetic “wicking” fabrics that draw sweat away from your body. Add layers when it is colder and remember to protect exposed skin with sunscreen.
- Water. Take frequent sips of water during your walk and ensure you drink water before and after your walk. Set a goal of drinking at least eight cups of water a day.
Finally, since you already know how to walk, here are a few tips to help you get started:
- Walk out the door! Start out slow and easy. For most people this means head out the door, walk for 10 minutes, and then walk back. That's it? Yes, that's it. If this is hard for you, just walk for 5-7 minutes, and then walk back. If this is easy for you, walk 12-15 minutes, and then walk back. Do this every day for a week, then progress by adding 5 minutes to your walks every week until you are walking as long as desired. Walking for 30-45 minutes, 4- 5x/ week is a good goal.
- Once you are comfortable walking a certain length of time, try to pick up your pace. Incorporate a warm up, cool down and stretching into your routine. Start your walk at a slow warm up pace, then stop and do a few flexibility drills. Walk for the desired length of time at a slightly quicker speed. You should walk fast enough to feel some exertion, but you should not be gasping for air. Aim for a “talking” pace, which means you have elevated breathing, but can still carry on a conversation. Finish your walk with the slower cool down pace and stretch again. Stretching will make you feel great and assist in injury prevention.
- Watch your posture. Walk tall, thinking of elongating your body. Hold your head up and eyes forward with your shoulders down, back and relaxed. Tighten your abdominal muscles and buttocks and fall into a natural stride.
- Remember to drink plenty of water before, during and after walking.
The most challenging part when starting a fitness program is developing the habit. There are several tips you can utilize to help you stay true to your program.
- Find a walking friend.
- Plan paths that are convenient for you, or map routes you’ve never done before for an adventure.
- Wear a pedometer. Research has shown that people who wear pedometers are found to increase their daily steps considerably!
- Keep a diary or a walking journal.
- Establish a routine.
- Walk first thing in the morning if you are a morning person or in the evening if that suits your schedule better.
- Most importantly, just start walking and enjoy the journey to improved health.