The modern society is increasingly becoming more sedentary. The machines now replace many of the manual jobs and people spend long hours in front of a computer or TV. This inactive lifestyle has numerous deleterious effects on health.
A large body of data shows that active people have a significantly lower risk for a host of conditions: type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, some cancers (breast and colon), osteoarthritis, depression, dementia. What is especially interesting and appealing about the physical activity as a preventive tool, is its efficacy - very little goes a long way! One study showed that only 15 minutes a day decreased mortality rate by 14% and increased life expectancy by 3 years!
Currently recommended minimum “dose” for exercise is 30 minutes of moderately intense activity, 5 days a week. Exercise can be broken into several 10-15 minute chunks per day. Although the recommendation calls for moderately intense exercise (any activity that raises your heart rate and leaves you slightly out of breath; you are able to talk but unable to sing while exercising), any activity, no matter how intense, is better than none. Dancing, gardening, and walking all contribute toward your 150-minute weekly goal.
Perhaps the easiest exercise to start with, walking is a natural activity that can be conveniently included in a daily schedule. Walking does not require a gym
membership, special equipment or clothing (except comfortable walking shoes!).
To give yourself the best chance of succeeding in your exercise goals, before you start, think about how most efficiently to incorporate walking into your daily routine. Perhaps the easiest way to do this is to connect walking to a chore or an activity that you enjoy or do often. Walking to a grocery store, with your kids to and from school, or while chatting with a friend, require small changes in your schedule but lead to a sustainable increase in activity. Remember that even small alterations in your routine, such as climbing a flight of stairs instead of taking an elevator, or getting off a bus or a train one stop earlier, can do wonders for your health.
Being in nature while walking (dubbed “green exercise”) can have an added benefit to your mental health. When choosing your walking route, try to incorporate green spaces, or some other scenery that you prefer, such as beaches or river banks. Vary your courses frequently to keep your exercise fresh and interesting.
If you enjoy company while exercising, ask a friend to be your walking buddy. Having a dog will ensure that you get your daily dose of walking.
Without proper shoes, walking can be taxing on your feet. Good walking shoes are comfortable, neither tight nor loose, have flexible soles and good arch support. Choose shoes made from “breathable” materials that allow proper ventilation of your feet.
Clothing should be weather-appropriate. On cold days, dress in layers that can be easily removed as you warm up during the exercise. On hot days, protect yourself from the sun by wearing a hat or by walking in the shade. Always make sure that you stay hydrated.
If you are exercising at night, wear a reflector (armband, pins, tape) for better visibility. Many key muscles are involved in walking. To reduce the risk of injury, make sure you warm up before each walk. Gently make circles with your ankles, hips, and arms, and start your walk with a slow tempo for 3-5 minutes.
If you are currently physically inactive due to injuries, sedentary lifestyle or because you are recovering from an illness, build to the recommended weekly goal gradually. For example, you can start by walking every other day for 15 minutes. The following week, increase the length of your walks to 20 minutes but keep the same frequency (walking every other day). Increase either the frequency or the length of your walks weekly, until you have met your goal. As your fitness improves, gradually increase the intensity of your exercise by changing your walking speed.
Practice good posture while walking. Keep your back straight and tall (imagine someone pulling a string coming out of your spine towards the sky), your chin up and your shoulders down and back (“away from your ears”, as fitness instructors like to say). Engage the core muscles while walking by gently pulling in your stomach.
Each exercise should end with a cool down, a slow paced 3-5 minute walk. Some people feel less sore if they also stretch after the walk.
Last updated: October 23, 2016