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Walk your way to better health

Two women walking in a park.

A regular walking program is an easy way to improve your fitness level, manage your weight and help prevent disease.

It’s amazing that simply putting one foot in front of the other—and doing it over and over again—can have so many health benefits.

But by all accounts, walking—plain old cheap, safe and simple walking—is one of the best things you can do for your health.

The rewards of hoofing it

The list of the health benefits of walking is long. According to the American Heart Association, the American Council on Exercise and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, benefits can include:

  • Better brain functioning.
  • Reduced risk for serious diseases like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and several types of cancer.
  • Improvements in blood pressure, blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels.
  • Increased energy and stamina.
  • Improved memory—and reduced risk of dementia.
  • Better bone strength and lower risk of osteoporosis.
  • Prevention of weight gain.
  • Less risk of depression.
  • Improvements in sleep.

You can walk while listening to music, a podcast or an audiobook. Or you can make walking a family affair or something to do with your friends. Walking can be a great way to reconnect and catch up on other people’s lives.

How to get going

If you are recovering from a recent injury or have a chronic condition, you may want to begin your walking program with a visit to your doctor. Low-impact exercise like walking may still be good for you. It could even help with back pain or arthritis.

If nothing is holding you back, then get a move on:

  • Dress in comfortable, layered clothes and supportive shoes. Avoid cotton socks; they retain moisture.
  • Warm up by walking as you normally would for about five minutes. Then pick up the pace to get your heart beating faster and your lungs breathing deeper.
  • Keep up this faster pace for about 15 minutes or as long as you can.
  • Swing your arms back and forth at your sides.
  • Keep your head up, your back straight and your abdomen flat.
  • Point your toes straight ahead.
  • Take long strides, but don’t strain.

Cool down by walking at your warm-up speed again for about five minutes. Perform gentle stretching exercises when you’re done.

Make it a routine

You can repeat the above routine three or four days a week with days of rest in between. After two weeks, add five minutes to the more strenuous part of your walk. Keep adding five minutes every two weeks as you gradually build strength and endurance.

Reviewed 1/8/2021

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