We’ve all heard about how walking is a good way to start your journey on the road to being healthy. Some of us are told this from our family physicians, once we’ve seen the lower end of 30 slip on by. Unfortunately, quite a few Americans are told this because they are carrying around a few, or more than a few extra pounds of weight. Which in many cases can lead to debilitating illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic joint pain and if not diagnosed in time, even a heart attack.
Most of these illnesses can be curbed by eating healthy, losing weight and getting our bodies to move by being more active. One of the most recommended activities that you can adopt without putting too much strain on your body is plain walking. We’ve all been doing it since we were 1 – 2 years old. But for a lot of us, the convenience of having a car, or the ability to make use of public transportation has gotten us a little lazy.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), adults need a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week in order to improve overall health and fitness and reduce the risk for many chronic diseases. Moderate-intensity exercise is defined by activities as simple as brisk walking.
Before you launch into “OMG 150 MINUTES!! THAT’S CRAZY!!” do the math. That comes out to 21 minutes and 25 seconds a day. So, for 22 minutes every day, you need to walk briskly in order to improve your overall health. Remember that, walking briskly is the key to helping you drop those extra pounds along with providing your body with the necessary activity it needs to function the way it was always meant to! Now, a 22-minute walking session might not seem like much, but many people aren’t even aware of how little they move in the course of a day.
Our lives have become very simplified by technology. Consequently, it is absolutely essential that you become more aware of your daily activity. After all, our generation has grown up with a remote controller from everything from a TV, Garage Door Opener, to a Dryer for our clothes. Gone are the times when we took the wet laundry outside and hung them on a clothesline, or God forbid, got up off the couch from watching a marathon session of one of our favorite television programs and changed the station on the TV by hand!
So, you see, even little tasks that 30-45 years ago we would think nothing of getting up and doing, today those little extra steps and exertions are non-existent. So, when you're told by your physician that you need to do something about that extra weight, walking can sound pretty good. The best part of the CDC’s information is that the 22 minutes (I’m optimistically rounding up) don’t have to be done all at once. You can break it out into smaller segments.
This can get as simple as taking some extra time from your busy day and walk to work. And if you think you live too far away, because it’s a long commute, then plan out your lunch break so that you can use it to take a brisk walk outside your building. If the weather is not cooperating with you, and you work in a building that has a couple of floors, then make it a point to make tracks up and down those stairs till you either work up a slight sweat, or you start breathing a little heavy. After all, we don’t want you to collapse during a course of exercise when you're trying to get your body a little healthier, right?
After work, again, weather permitting, after you’ve had a nice healthy dinner. (And we will get into healthy eating in another blog post). You can get outside and set a distance goal for you to reach and head on off and tackle it. A word of advice, don’t make your first distance goal too far away. Make yourself a goal that you can achieve. The worst thing you can do is to set yourself up for failure by not being able to reach that initial distance marker. It can depress you right off the bat when your only looking at achieving your goal of dropping some weight through low-impact walking.
In order to track and monitor just how much you walk, the calories your burning and the overall distance, a fitness tracker or pedometer can do wonders for not only tracking your progress, but to also help keep you motivated as you see right away the accomplishments you’ve made after you’ve walked for that first week. One that I think is a great pedometer to start off with to give you all the necessary information you need to track your progress is the Omron HJ322U This walking companion is designed specifically for aerobic exercise (brisk walking!).
The 322U uses a Tri-Axis technology to accurately count steps when the unit is flat, vertical, or horizontal. It also tracks "brisk steps" separately from regular steps along with distance and calories burned. The pedometer is also able to connect to Omronwellness.com via USB to upload information. Which is what you need in order to see just how well you are doing, and if you’re not doing enough, what you need to do in order to meet your preset goals of time and distance.
Work on your technique
Begin with short distances. Start with a pace that feels comfortable (perhaps 5-10 minutes) and gradually increase your time or distance each week by 10-20 percent by adding a few minutes or blocks. If it’s easier on your joints and your schedule to take a couple of 10- to 20-minute walks instead of one long walk, do it!
Focus on posture. Keep your head lifted, tummy pulled in and shoulders relaxed. Swing your arms naturally. Avoid carrying hand weights since they put extra stress on your elbows and shoulders. Don’t over-stride. Select a comfortable, natural step length. If you want to move faster, pull your back leg through more quickly.
Breathe deeply. If you can’t talk or catch your breath while walking, slow down. At first, forget about walking speed. Just get out there and walk!
Pick up the pace
To warm up, walk at an easy tempo for the first several minutes. Then gradually adopt a more purposeful pace. A good way to add variety is to incorporate some brisk intervals. For example, walk one block fast, two blocks slow and repeat several times. Gradually add more fast intervals with shorter recovery periods. Concentrate on increasing your speed while maintaining good posture.
Listening to a great play-list from your phone or other device is a great way to keep your pace steady and brisk. The more the upbeat songs you're listening to, the faster you're going to find yourself moving. Try it and I’ll bet you surprise yourself on just how fast you reach your distance goals.
Walking hills is a great way to tone your legs. Using Nordic walking poles can help you burn more calories and give you better posture and overall muscle endurance. Treadmill walking, while not as scenic, can be convenient during bad weather.
The end of your walk is an ideal time to stretch since your body is warmed up. Stretch your hamstrings and calves as well as your chest, shoulders, and back. Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
So when all is said and done, you just can’t beat getting outside, breathing some fresh, clean air and enjoying the satisfying feeling that you're doing something good for yourself for a change.
After all, this is your “Me Time” and for some people, it can take the edge off what may have been a trying day, so that when you get home from your nightly walk, you just may be the person a certain someone knew from hopefully a not too distant past.
So what are you waiting for, get up, get out and WALK!