Walking: great exercise, right at your feet
By Carol Nixon, MEd
Two of the most commonly expressed personal barriers to regular exercise are time and energy. While we know that exercise can improve and even save our lives, many of us find ourselves unable to take that first step. “I just don’t have the energy or the physical stamina it takes to go to the gym, an exercise class or even use the treadmill in the basement. And even if I did have the energy, I just don’t have the time, between my work, my family obligations and everything else happening in my life.”
If you’ve ever said or thought words to that effect, you’re not alone. But it’s also important for you to know that there’s a solution literally right at your feet. Walking. It’s one of the simplest, most accessible forms of exercise you can do. It requires no special clothing or equipment (other than a pair of good walking shoes), and it’s free! Whether it’s a morning walk around the neighborhood with the family dog, a weekend hike in the woods with your best friend, a lunchtime jaunt with your pals at work or an evening stroll with your partner or kids, the steps you take can dramatically change your life for the better.
Even activities like gardening and yardwork are a form of walking, with the added benefit using a wider range of muscles and spending time outdoors, enjoying nature and absorbing a healthy dose of Vitamin D. At the office, too, you can add some extra steps by taking the stairs instead of the elevator, using the restroom that’s farthest away and having occasional walking brainstorms, instead of sit-down meetings, with your work colleagues.
It’s all about taking as many steps as you can each day and increasing speed over time to create an aerobic effect. Big strides aren’t necessary or even good for you; they increase the risk of muscle strain. Take shorter, quicker steps, and walk briskly. Bend your arms at 90 degrees and swing them back and forth, opposite the leg motion, adding power and speed by using your arms effectively. Ideally, you should aim, over time, for at least 150 minutes of brisk walking activity each week.
What’s the payoff for all those extra steps? Well, studies consistently show that a regular walking routine can help maintain a healthy weight and prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Clinical research also has supported these benefits of walking:
• Strengthens you bones and muscles
• Enhances your circulation
• Sharpens brain function and memory
• Raises your immunity
• Improves your blood glucose levels
• Improves your balance and coordination
• Improves your sleep
• Lessens the pain of arthritis and fibromyalgia
It’s time to take that first step and keep walking!
Carol Nixon, Med, is the Wellness Program Coordinator at Berkshire Health Systems