The Road to Health & Happiness, One Step at a Time

You’re up on your feet and you have a goal in mind to get moving and stay moving (Why? Read “Is Sitting the New Smoking?”), but where do you start? There are options, plenty of them, some of which we’ve mentioned in our previous installment. But perhaps you want FullSizeRenderto start out simple. Perhaps you would like to engage in a physical activity without having the added worry of the expense that comes with a gym membership or whether or not you can make that 6:30 Spin Class at “The Y” when your child’s Soccer practice has run late and dinner hasn’t even been thought out, let alone prepared. What can help get you out of the house, out of a mental rut and into terrific physical shape, yet won’t cost you a dime?

It all begins with a single step, followed by another and another and so on.

According to growing scientific evidence, walking, when done often and properly, can provide you with an array of benefits that are just as effective as those gained from high intensity activities. That evidence has shown that walking can burn glucose to help control blood sugar, especially after meals. A 2013 study in the journal Diabetes Care suggested that three 15-minute post-meal walks each day can be more effective at regulating blood sugar levels than a single 45-minute walk mid-morning or afternoon.  Walking for just 30 minutes a day can decrease the risks related to heart disease by improving your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, reducing your blood pressure, and lowering the rate of weight gain. Some studies have even linked walking to strengthening memory, not to mention reducing stress, increasing your flexibility, bone strength, and energy levels.

Walking the Right Way

  • Keep your spine straight, with ears over shoulders, shoulders over hips, and hips over knees.
  • Your arms should be bent at 90 degrees and swing back and forth (not across the body) from the shoulders. Your legs will naturally move in sync. The faster you swing, the faster you’ll walk.
  • Your feet should land heel first with each step. You would then roll through the foot and push off with your toes. Make it look as if you’re showing the sole of your shoe to someone behind you with every stride. If there is a slap-slap sound when your foot lands, then you’re landing too abruptly, rather than rolling smoothly with every step.
  • When you walk, strive for a brisk pace, like you need to be somewhere, catch the bus, or avoid being late to a meeting. The brisker the pace, the better.
  • Avoid using weights. Studies have shown that 2 to 5 pound dumbbells do not create enough resistance to develop any meaningful changes in strength, yet are heavy enough to increase the risk of inflicting shoulder injuries upon yourself.

Gearing Up

You want to find a good pair of walking shoes that provide both stability as well as flexibility. As running shoes tend to be stiff, you’ll want to opt for a more lightweight, flexible shoe that you can twist or bend in your hands, but remain fairly firm. Low heels work best. Always wear socks.

For clothing, in colder climates, you’ll want to bundle up, but not too tightly. You should be able to move comfortably. Add layers, starting with a moisture-wicking synthetic fabric under-layer, a wool mid-layer and moisture-proof outer-layer that can be easily shed. For warmer months, thin, light-colored clothing will suffice and a hat to protect your scalp from the sun.

Steps to Success

  • Just get started, even if it’s only a 5-to-10 minute walk each day during your first week. You can increase your time by adding a few additional minutes each day afterwards.
  • Be aware of what you are capable of and what you’re ready to do in the long-term.
  • Set a new, reachable goal each day, then you can work towards a goal of 30 minutes a day as you get in better shape.
  • Find an approach that you find enjoyable, whether it be a choice of setting, walking with someone or alone, joining a walking group.
  • Track your progress – Use a pedometer, establish a baseline and increase the amount of steps as your goal changes. This is a good way to keep you accountable and encourage you to push yourself and stay motivated.
  • Walking for longer periods increases the health benefits. It allows your muscles to continue to take up sugars for hours afterwards, not just while you’re walking.
  • If you use a treadmill, get creative by dialing up the incline a bit to add some resistance.

The Great Outdoors

Don’t limit yourself to treadmills, go outdoors! Surfaces such as grass, dirt, sand and roads are never completely level which help work out muscles more effectively than a treadmill can. Wind can increase resistance, especially when walking uphill. And being outside, especially amongst nature, can be healthy for both body and mind. Taking your walks during the day will allow your body to increase it’s intake of Vitamin D from the natural sunlight. Studies have shown that natural sunlight also helps set the body’s internal clock that tells us when to eat and sleep, and normalizes hormonal function that occur at specific times of the day.

Enjoying the outdoors also gives you that mental break from the rigors of the on-the-run lifestyle we lead and can improve your mood. You end up having a clearer, more focused mindset.

So take advantage by finding a walking trail or use your phone and GPS to help you create your own walking path. Drive around and look for scenic areas with plenty of greenery to map out, if possible. You might even be lucky enough to have everything you are looking for right in your own community. The residents of Grand Haven, a Brevard County community comprised of 6 neighborhoods, take advantage of such elements when they walk or run – an extended walking trail, scenic lakes, lush preserves filled with all manner of flora and fauna, and a beautiful park that also offers a variety of facilities and activities for the active-minded.

Walking is a great physical activity that will keep you up on your feet and on the go. It will make you feel more energized and alive and improve your outlook. And committing to this active change to your life will not only bring you added health benefits, but may inspire you to expand upon your physical activity regimen. And it all begins with a single step.

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