What’s a good way to exercise that is also easy, cheap and something nearly everyone young and old can do to improve their health?
Most experts agree that you should get at least 30 minutes of moderate-level physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. But you don’t have to buy costly equipment or join an expensive gym. Walking briskly is a simple exercise you can do just about anywhere and at any time of day. And its health benefits are endless.
Routine brisk walking can:
- Lower your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes
- Lower your risk of dying from heart disease or stroke
- Lower your risk of certain types of cancer, like colon and breast cancers
- Reduce anxiety and depression
- Help you handle stress
- Give you an energy boost
- Help you sleep better
- Decrease your appetite
- Burn calories and help control your weight
- Strengthen muscles and bones
- Lower your risk of osteoporosis and arthritis
- Help control joint swelling and pain from arthritis
If you’ve been sedentary for a while—meaning you haven’t exercised regularly in a long time—it’s best to check with your primary care physician or nurse practitioner first and then begin slowly.
Don’t aim for a marathon right away. Start by walking 20 minutes three times a week, then gradually increase your total time spent walking, and try walking faster and more often. In no time, you’ll be up to 30 minutes or more a day.
Another way to monitor how much you’ve walked in a day is to invest in a pedometer. You clip the small device on your belt or waistband and it keeps track of the number of steps you take.
The American Heart Association recommends aiming for 10,000 steps a day, which is roughly equivalent to 30 minutes of moderate exercise. Again, it’s okay to start slowly and add 1,000 steps a day until you reach 10,000.
Where you walk is entirely up to you. It may be convenient to walk around your neighborhood, but why not check out a local track, where you can easily count the laps and know how many miles you’ve walked?
Parks with marked trails can offer an interesting—and if you are up to it, more challenging—walk. And if it’s raining, or too hot or cold outside, you can visit a local mall. (See below for walking opportunities sponsored by Franklin Square.)
You can also “sneak in” physical activity throughout your day—it doesn’t have to be all at once. If you have a desk job, get in a walk on your lunch break. Instead of sending another e-mail, get up and visit a coworker who is a short walk away. Skip the elevator and take the stairs. Instead of driving around looking for a close parking spot, park farther away.
So get walking! But be sure to be safe and get the most out of your walk by following these tips:
- Wear comfortable clothing and sturdy athletic shoes. If you don‘t already have a pair of good shoes, visit a store that has a salesperson who can help you choose a pair that fits you well. And don't forget good, absorbent socks.
- Stretching will make you more flexible and help prevent injury, just don’t stretch cold muscles. Warm up for five minutes at an easy walking pace first.
- Maintain good posture while you walk. Keep your head level and look straight ahead, taking long, smooth strides.
- Swing your arms back and forth as you walk. This gives your body an extra push and will help you increase your speed.
- Walk as briskly as you can. You should be able to speak, but have difficulty carrying on a conversation!
- Stay hydrated, especially in hot weather. Bring a water bottle with you on longer walks.
- Vary where you walk, so you don’t get bored. Always remain aware of your surroundings.
- Make it a social activity. Find a friend or two to walk with you, and you can motivate one another.
Franklin Square offers a few ways to help you get walking:
Heart Smart Trail Grand Re-Opening
- When: Sunday, June 5, 2011, 1 to 3 p.m.
- Where: Gunpowder State Park, Sweathouse area at Belair Road
Join us for the grand reopening of this one-mile walking path. Activities include raffles, prizes and fun for the entire family.
Mall Exercise Program
- When/Where: Wednesdays and Fridays, 9 to 10 a.m. at White Marsh Mall; Thursdays, 9 to 10 a.m. at Eastpoint Mall
Led by a certified exercise instructor, sessions include “Flex N Stretch.” Free blood pressure screenings are also offered the third Thursday of each month from 10 a.m. to noon at White Marsh and from 9 to 11 a.m. at Eastpoint.