How can walking improve your health?

To improve overall cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association suggests at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity).

Newer studies suggest the goal of walking 10,000 steps each day to help with weight control. Walking is an easy way for people to exercise--a good pair of walking shoes and you're ready to go. Optional equipment when starting a walking program includes using a tracking log and a pedometer to monitor your progress. As with any exercise program, get approval from your healthcare provider before starting.

Tracking your steps

Tracking your steps may assist you in reaching your walking goals. Examples of tracking equipment include pedometers, fitness band devices and walking apps on Smart Phones. These should be used daily to track steps. They will show the number of steps you have taken at the end of every day. Feel free to glance at the tracking device throughout the day to monitor your progress. People of all fitness levels can use a pedometer because it is easy to operate. A pedometer works by detecting leg movement and needs to be firmly clipped to a belt or waistband around the waist. The simplest types of pedometers just count steps. Many pedometers can also track miles walked and calories burned. More sophisticated pedometers and other devices on the market can keep track of time and your heart rate. Buy the one that best suits your need.

Don't have access to a pedometer? Consider tracking the distance you walk by using a measured track, which is available in some communities (either indoor or outdoor). You could also drive the route you wish to walk and measure the distance with the car's odometer. Another alternative to using a pedometer is tracking the amount of time that you walk.

How many miles?

Most sedentary individuals take 1,000 - 3,000 steps per day. Walking 2,000 steps is equal to walking approximately one mile. This is based on a walking stride of two and a half feet. Walking 10,000 steps is equal to walking approximately five miles. Walking 2,000 steps (or one mile) will expend approximately 100 calories. When the goal of 10,000 steps (or five miles) is reached, you will have used approximately 500 calories. A 500-calorie deficit each day will assist in losing one pound of weight per week.

Getting started

Use a tracking log to record your steps (or distance or time) for a few days. Take the highest number of steps (or distance or time) you have walked and set that as your first daily goal. Use that number as a daily target for the next one to two weeks.

Once you feel ready to increase, raise your goal in 500-step amounts (or 1/4 mile or 15 minutes). Continue this routine until you reach 10,000 steps (5 miles or 75 minutes). Most healthy but sedentary adults can safely add 2,000 steps per day, or approximately one additional mile, the first week. You may increase your steps as quickly or as slowly as you want. Call your health care team if you ever experience pain or discomfort while walking.

Helpful tips

  • Build on your motivation by setting short-term goals. For example, "this week, I will average 3,000 steps each day or 21,000 steps by the end of the week."
  • If you skip major walking sessions one day, get back on track as soon as possible. Try making up the steps by walking a few minutes extra the next few days.
  • The more you become physically active, the easier it will be to continue.
  • Get someone to walk with you for extra motivation.
  • Listen to music while walking for extra endurance.
  • Set your own pace and make physical activity a lifestyle change.

Ways to increase your steps

  • Take a walk with someone.
  • Have a destination to walk towards—a friend's house, the library, or church, for example. Distance too far to walk there and back? Have someone meet you at your destination with a car to drive you home once you get there.
  • Running or jogging count as steps also.
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Walk the dog.
  • Park farther away from the door.
  • Take walking shoes to work and walk during your work break.
  • Clean the house.
  • Do yard work.
  • Walk inside the mall.
  • Walk to nearby stores instead of driving.
  • Dance.

Want more of a challenge? The President's Challenge is a program that encourages all Americans to make physical activity a daily part of their everyday lives. Visit www.presidentschallenge.org to get more information on getting started, keeping exercise records, and rewards to apply for.

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