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Walking Your Way to Better Health: How to Get Started

Walking

  • Lowers blood pressure and the ‘bad’ (LDL) cholesterol levels and raises the ‘good’ (HDL) cholesterol levels -- all of which decrease the risk of heart disease.
  • Lowers blood sugar levels -- which lowers the risk of diabetes.
  • Strengthens and builds bone -- a change that decreases the risk and pain of osteoarthritis.
  • Helps battle depression. Exercise makes the brain release the body’s natural chemical pain killers (ie, endorphins, dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin). The release of these chemicals make you feel better right away.
  • Reduces stress.
  • Improves the quality of sleep
  • Helps to reach weight loss goals and maintains a healthy weight.
  • Improves muscle strength -- helps the body maintain mobility, strength, flexibility and endurance.
  • Improves skin tone.
  • Improves memory.
  • Reduces the risk of colon cancer.

How far should I walk each day?

To get the most benefit, you need to take 10,000 steps a day, which can be measured by a pedometer. Keep in mind that about half of your 10,000 steps can come from activities of everyday living. Examples include walking to mow the lawn (instead of a using a riding mower), taking the dog for a walk, gardening, housework (especially such chores as mopping, sweeping, or vacuum cleaning floors; washing windows), washing and waxing a car, pushing a stroller, raking leaves, shoveling snow, participating in sports (biking, tennis, dancing, swimming, golfing – walking the course, etc).

As a part of your 10,000 steps a day, 30 consecutive minutes of walking is especially beneficial for your heart. Other small additions to your regular routine can fill in the remaining number of steps. Examples include taking a morning and evening walk around your neighborhood, walking around an indoor mall, taking the steps instead of the elevator, parking farther away from stores, taking the least direct path to other destinations, volunteering for activities that involve walking (eg, escorting family members to hospital units, etc).

How do I get started?

First, talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program. This is especially important if you have not been regularly active nor have some chronic illnesses that may limit the amount of time you should exercise. Examples include arthritis, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain pulmonary conditions.

After you’ve been ‘cleared’ by your doctor, simply put on a pair of well-fitting sneakers and start walking.

Try to walk 30 minutes, 5 to 7 days per week. If you feel you don’t have the time or the endurance, break the 30 minutes into three sessions of 10 minutes each. No matter what, take it slow. Ask yourself how much you have walked lately. When you start walking, you might only be able to walk a certain distance. One signal to slow down is when you are unable to talk out loud without needing to catch your breath. Slowly increase your walking time, speed, or frequency.

If you haven’t walked on any kind of regular basis, below is a sample walking plan for beginners.

  • Initial goal: Walk at a comfortable pace for about 10 minutes, three times a day 5 to 7 days per week (eg, to a neighbor’s house and back).
  • Step it up: Walk at a comfortable pace for 15 minutes twice a day (eg, to the end of the street and back).
  • Add distance: Walk for 15 minutes twice a day to a distance of a street and a half. (This means you will have to walk a little faster to cover this increase in distance.)
  • Increase frequency: Walk the new distance three times (three laps) once a day in less than 30 minutes.

What are some tips to help keep me motivated to walk?

  • Keep track of your progress. Wear an inexpensive pedometer to help keep track of your steps or a wear a watch to keep track of your time.
  • Walk with a friend.
  • Wear a portable music player and listen to podcasts or your favorite music.
  • Change your route; change your scenery.
  • Challenge yourself. Set new goals. Increase the distance, time or frequency of your walks.
  • Walk up and down hills or other new, more vigorous terrain.
  • Remember, walking is free. There are no costly fitness center membership fees. Reward yourself with the money saved when you meet your goals.
Being careful
  • If something hurts, don’t do it.
  • Do not continue if you experience any cardiovascular symptoms, such as increased shortness of breath, chest pain, or dizziness. If symptoms arise, contact a medical professional immediately.
  • Any time you begin something new, start smaller, slower, less than you think, and see how your body reacts.
  • Do not set your initial goals too high. Trying to do too much too fast can cause more harm than good and may limit your ability to maintain a regular exercise program.
References

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 11/23/2011…#14903