The deep freeze of winter has long-since loosened its grip on Colorado. The days are getting longer, the daffodils and apple blossoms are in full bloom and mild temperatures are beckoning people outdoors. There’s no time like the present to head out the front door and take a walk!
Walking is the perfect exercise for weight loss, improved overall health, and stress reduction. It’s cheap – no special equipment or lessons are required – and relatively gentle on the body. And the health benefits of a regular walking routine are enormous:
- Reduced risk for heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, diabetes and other chronic illnesses
- Stronger bones and toned muscles
- Decreased feelings of depression and anxiety as well as reduced stress
- Increased energy, productivity, and creativity
- Improved sleep
- Improved blood pressure and cholesterol readings
- Weight loss
The surgeon general recommends that Americans walk to the tune of 10,000 steps per day. Why? Research has shown that those who burn 2,000 calories per week are healthier and live longer than those whose lifestyles are more sedentary. The average walker might burn 300-450 calories in 10,000 steps, so over the course of a week, the net burn will be 2,000-3,000 calories. I’m sold! What better way to stay healthy? So let’s tie on our tennies and get started!
- If you’re new to exercise, you’ll want to start slowly. Aim for ten to fifteen minutes the first time out then gradually increase your walks by about 5 minutes each week.
- Be sure to choose a safe place to walk, and find a friend or two to walk with you – and always be aware of your surroundings.
- Be sure to wear shoes that provide plenty of support in the arch and cushioning in the heel, and wear clothes that are dry and comfortable and that absorb perspiration.
- Walk at a medium pace at first in order to warm up your muscles then gradually increase your speed. Eventually, you’ll want to build up enough strength and stamina so that you’re walking fast enough to elevate your heart rate but not get so out of breath that you can’t talk comfortably. Toward the end of your walk, decrease your pace gradually in order to allow your muscles to cool down and your heart rate to lower.
- Walk with your head up, and shoulders relaxed, leaning forward slightly from the ankles.
- Hydrate before, during and after your walk, particularly if the weather is hot.
- Gradually increase your outings to 30-45 minutes, three to five days per week or more.
- If you can’t commit to an extended walk once a day, try breaking it up into several short walks throughout the day.
You’ll want to incorporate a stretching regimen into your walking routine after warm-up and cool-down, since warm muscles respond better to stretching than cold ones:
Side Reach: Stretch one arm up over your head and to the side. Hold for 10 seconds then repeat on the other side. Repeat 5 times on each side.
Hamstring Stretch: Stand on one leg and prop the other leg parallel to the ground on a bench or fence with toes pointing up. Hold for 10 seconds, leaning forward from the waist. Repeat on other leg, 5 times on each side.
Quadriceps Stretch: With one hand lean against a fence or tree. With opposite hand, reach behind your back and grasp your ankle pulling it toward your buttocks until you feel the stretch in the front of your thigh. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat with opposite leg. Repeat 5 times on each side.
Calf Stretch: Rest both hands on a wall or tree. Bend one knee and point it toward the wall keeping the opposite leg straight until you feel the muscles in your calf stretch. Repeat with opposite calf, 5 times on each side.
10,000 steps per day is no easy feat, especially if your job tends to be sedentary. One way to track your steps and gradually work your way up to 10,000 is with a pedometer. Originally invented by Leonardo Da Vinci, pedometers made their way to America during colonial times by Thomas Jefferson. But it was Japan who commercialized the pedometer in 1965, calling it “manpo-kei,” meaning “10,000 steps meter.” Pedometers are inexpensive and effective tools for those wanting to track and increase their daily steps. Most sporting goods and discount stores carry pedometers or you can purchase one online at Sun Company.
So there you have it. If you’re looking to lose a few pounds or just want to get in shape but don’t know where to begin – start by just walking out the door! Because – when you’re moving, you’re improving!