My goal for this blog series is to highlight small ways that you can improve your health and wellness with everyday activities. Last month I posted about the health benefits of singing, and today I would like to continue the series by discussing the benefits of walking.
Walking is a great way to boost your health and wellness. Let's face it, it is really easy to be lazy. We all try to take short cuts so that we don't have to work as hard. Adding a little bit more walking to your day is a great way to give a boost to your wellness, and you can incorporate it in small ways. Let's take a look at how exactly walking helps you, and how you can do more of it.
What Can Walking Do For You?
The health benefits of walking have been well documented. By regularly walking at a moderate or brisk pace, you may see some of the following benefits:
Maintain a healthy weight
Walking is one of the best and easiest ways to lose excess weight and keep it off. If you are trying to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you take in. Walking is a great cardiovascular exercise that will have you burning those calories in no time. In order to lose weight by walking, you will need to do more than just walking around your house, or walking to your car. The amount of walking necessary for weight loss or maintenance depends on your current health, and your weight goals.
Maintain a healthy heart
Walking is an excellent way to improve your cardiovascular health. Regular walking has been proven to decrease the risks of heart disease and stroke. Because walking raises your heart rate, it gets your blood pumping more and gives your cardiovascular system a good workout. There is also a muscle in your calf called the soleus muscle, also referred to as your second heart. The function of this muscle is to help pump the blood from your lower extremities back up to your heart. Because firing the soleus moves your foot, walking is a great way to get it working. Walking is also a good way to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol in check. Basically any exercise that raises your heart rate, will have these same benefits.
Boost your energy and brighten your mood
Walking regularly is a great way to boost your energy because it gets your heart rate up, and helps circulate fluids through your body. Walking also helps your body to regulate your blood sugar levels which can help to stave off those dips in energy. Walking at a moderate or brisk pace also releases endorphins which put us in a good mood.
Do you get the mid-afternoon energy slump? Getting up and walking around can help. It is actually recommended that people who sit at desks all day get up and move around for about 10 minutes to every hour of sitting. If you remain seated at your desk for too long, your body has to work a lot harder and exert more energy for basic functioning. Getting up and walking around for a little while is a great way to improve your circulation, and you will likely be able to work more efficiently.
Increase muscle tone
When you use your muscles regularly, you improve their muscle tone. Walking can help to tone the muscles in your legs, glutes, belly, and arms. The more you walk, and the more brisk your walk, the more it will help to tone your muscles.
Improve your memory
Walking has been proven to improve your memory. In fact, walking regularly has been shown to cut your risk of Alzheimer's disease in half over a 5 year period.
How Can You Incorporate More Walking Into Your Day?
There are many simple ways that you can increase the amount of walking that you do.
Skip the elevator and walk up the escalator
I have to admit that this touches on a couple of my pet peeves. It bothers me when I see people get in the elevator and take it up or down one floor. First of all, you are inconveniencing others who must wait for you to get on and off. Secondly, there are usually stairs nearby. Unless you are disabled or carrying cumbersome things, there are few reasons why even the most out of shape person can't walk one flight of stairs. If you are out of shape to the point where walking up one flight is hard and leaves you huffing and puffing, keep doing it. It will become easier. When one flight is no problem, try taking two, and so on. What really gets me is that when timing it, it often takes less time to walk the one flight of stairs than to wait for the elevator, get on, move one floor, and wait to get off. Taking the stairs for one or two flights is a great way to improve your overall health, and can often get you where you want to go faster.
When it comes to escalators, I am bothered when people stand and ride. Again, if you are disabled or carrying something like wheeled luggage or a stroller, this doesn't apply to you. Here is the thing... Escalators are stairs. You can walk up or down them. For that matter, because they are moving, you aren't even climbing the equivalent of a full flight. Not only will you get where you need to go faster, walking up and down escalators is a small way to add a little more health to your day.
Walk with friends
Walking with friends is a great way to add in extra steps and have fun doing it. Many people work best when they are held accountable. Having someone to encourage you is a great way to not only get more walking in, but to keep it up.
Every year here in Evanston, we have the Women Out Walking program. It is a 12-week program meant to encourage women to increase their physical activity and improve their lifestyles. Each day, women keep track of their steps either as individuals or as part of a team, and the top walkers for each 2 week period win prizes donated by local businesses. The program kicks off on March 21st and ends on June 21st.
If you don't live in Evanston, many other communities have similar programs. You can also gather a group of friends and make your own program. Walk together, or track your steps on your own, and then check in each week to see who is in the lead. Don't know anyone who wants to walk? Try looking up local groups who get together to go walking. Meetup is a great place to find groups who have shared interests.
Don't eat at your desk
Even if you prefer to bring your lunch from home, it is better to go somewhere to eat then to sit at your desk. Try walking to a nearby park, or look for a bench outside your building. The fresh air will do you some good, and you will get your body moving. This can help to prevent that mid-afternoon slump in energy that tends to occur after lunch. If the weather is preventing you from going anywhere, try taking part of your lunch break to move and walk around.
Park at the far end of the lot
One great way to increase your walking a bit is to park at the far end of the parking lot when running your errands. I see people drive around looking for the closest possible spot for longer than it would take to park farther away and walk. By parking a little bit farther away, not only will you save yourself some aggravation at times, but you will get in a little extra walking on your way into and out of the store.
Are you going several places that are all fairly close to each other? Park once and walk to each one.
Walk don't run
I know that many people may disagree with me on this, but I generally instruct people to walk instead of run. Many people seem to have this idea that doing something faster or hitting something harder will get better results. In most cases, this isn't true. You can do a lot of damage to your body very easily by overdoing things.
Running and walking have very similar benefits to your body and mind, but walking is more low impact. I would definitely recommend walking to anyone with joint issues. Running, especially on pavement, causes shock to your hips, knees, and ankles, where walking is much more gentle. It is true that you will have to walk a little farther than you would need to run to burn the same number of calories, but your body will be much happier.
I also see many people running incorrectly. If you have never been instructed on the proper way to run, I recommend walking until you get some instruction. Running incorrectly can damage your joints and muscles. I am not against running altogether. It is a great form of exercise for anyone who does not have joint trouble, and who has been instructed in the proper form.
Walking is great exercise for your body and mind. It can help you to reach fitness goals, make you feel better, and keep you healthier. One thing that I love about walking is that almost anyone can do it, and it is easy to find ways to incorporate it into your daily routine. What are your favorite ways to walk? Feel free to share in the comments!
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