Walking is a terrific form of exercise. You don't have to learn complicated steps or buy expensive equipment. It's easy on the joints. And you can do it just about anywhere, anytime. Walking helps you burn calories, improve your heart and bone health, increase energy and improve your mood.
Recent studies published in JAMA have demonstrated that postmenopausal women can lower their risk of breast cancer by 18% if they walk 1.25-2.5 hours per week, significantly decrease total and intra-abdominal fat by walking 3 hours per week and lower their risk of hip fracture if they walk at least 4 hours per week. That's a pretty amazing return on a very reasonable investment. Walking just 30 minutes a day combined with less than 10 hours per week of television watching has been shown to reduce new cases of obesity and diabetes by 30 and 43% respectively.
Experts at the CDC and National Institute of Health have published a recommendation that every American adult engage in 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity just about every day of the week. One way to meet this standard is to walk 2 miles briskly (about 4 miles per hr). If this pace is too fast for you, start at a more comfortable pace. Begin with a 10-15 minute walk and add a couple minutes each week. When you can walk 30-45 minutes easily, try to add some brisk walking intervals into your walk. One block fast, one block slow, etc. You can also combine 10-15 minute bouts of activity over the course of a day to equal 30 minutes. If you're interested in long-term weight control, the Institute of Medicine recommends a higher volume of activity: 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise 5 days per week. You'll need to gradually work up to this level of exercise and then stick with it. Find a pleasant place to walk: a beautiful park or neighborhood, the shopping mall. Get a friend or family member to join you and get in shape together.
The most important piece of equipment you'll need for walking is a pair of comfortable and supportive athletic shoes. Select walking, running or cross-training shoes, depending on whether you'll be using them for other forms of exercise. You don't need to pay $100 for a good pair, but the $19.99 budget model likely won't provide the support and performance you need. The shoe should fit comfortably right out of the box. Don't let a salesperson tell you to "break them in". Make sure you have a little wiggle room between the end of your longest toe (1/2") and the end of the shoe. Squeeze the heel area to make sure it's stiff and doesn't bend easily.
If you experience foot, knee, hip or back pain when walking, STOP and check with your doctor to find out the cause. You may need special exercises or better shoes. If you have osteoarthritis and experience increased joint pain lasting an hour or two after walking, consider an alternate activity like stationery cycling or water exercise. Don't stop exercising altogether! Get guidance from your doctor or a physical therapist. Regular aerobic, strength and flexibility training can help people with osteoarthritis maintain muscle function, manage weight to reduce stress on the joints and reduce pain.
In spring of 2003, Hospital for Special Surgery initiated an employee walking program called HSS on the Move sponsored by the Women's Sports Medicine Center. Employees walk during their lunch hour along the East River walkway adjacent to the campus and earn prizes each month for regular participation. Employees also receive health, fitness and nutrition information and win additional prizes for correctly answering fun quiz questions. In the first year, 133 employees were active in the program, with an average of 48 individuals walking each day. Employees have improved their health in a variety of ways. They also value being able to take a break from the pressures of the day and return to work with more energy. Below are quotes from HSS on the Move participants.
"Thank goodness for the walking program! It motivates me to leave my office instead of having lunch at my desk. Getting out of doors and walking by the river refreshes and recharges me for the rest of the day. I know I'm doing something good for myself and my blood pressure is lower too!"
- Susan Kreiss
"I have been participating in the walking program since April 2003. I have lost seventeen pounds since beginning the program and am encouraged with the look of a new me. This walking group provides additional information relating to healthy exercise, nutrition hints, as well as meeting fellow workers at the hospital. The flexibility of the hours to walk is appreciated. Robyn's enthusiasm is certainly infectious and I would love to continue with the program."
- Lindy Maier
"I have been having a lot of problems with my back, legs and thighs because I gained a lot of weight in a short period of time and the strain was too much for my spine. Since I started the HSS on the Move program, I've lost weight and my back spasms have all but disappeared."
- Carmen Gonzalez
Whatever activity you choose, get off that couch and start moving. You can't afford to miss out on all the amazing benefits of a brisk walk.