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Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s recent Call to Action made it clear that walking is the best way for most people to stay healthy and fit. Here’s how to do it more often and make it more enjoyable. (Murthy will be among the many speakers and participants from all walks of life at the 2nd National Walking Summit to be held in Washington, DC, October 28-30.)
1. Find your natural rhythm. Figure out the best times to walk for your schedule. Maybe it’s first thing in the morning. Or with your kids on the way to school. After lunch. Taking the dog out. After dinner. Before bedtime. With friends or family on the weekends.
2. Seize the opportunity whenever you can. Take the stairs instead of an elevator. Park a few blocks from your destinations. Ride transit (which usually involves a short walk on both ends of the trip). Swap the drive to the gym for a hike around the neighborhood. Run errands on foot. It all adds up.
Pay attention to how you can naturally incorporate walking into your life, rather than making it one more thing added to your busy schedule. Studies show we stick with exercise more when it is a regular part of our day more than when it’s seen as a leisure time activity.
3. Start small but think big. Be realistic in your goals. The CDCs recommended minimum — 30 minutes a day — makes a good beginning. Do it in two or three separate trips if you need to. Then you can work your way up to whatever distance feels best. Many people are now doing walk marathons or half-marathons. (Three out of eight finishers of the Portland marathon now walk, and there are increasing numbers of walk-only marathons.)
4. Keep track of your progress. A pedometer, phone app or other device keeping tabs on how much you walk each day can be a handy tool. Fitness experts recommend 10,000 steps a day, but that can vary depending on personal factors. Americans on average walk about 5,110 steps a day.
5. Identify as a walker. Walkers are athletes, too. It’s a good exercise and an enjoyable pastime the same as biking or basketball. Claim it as your sport, and you’ll do it more often. Solidify your commitment by taking the walking pledge.
6. Make sure your walk is enjoyable. Find a route that is interesting, perhaps with a favorite destination like a coffee shop, park or a great view. Wear walking gear that is comfortable and that you feel good in. Don’t set overly tough goals at first. “If you’re slogging through something you don’t enjoy, you won’t stick with it,” says David W. Brock, PhD, assistant professor of exercise and movement science at the University of Vermont.
7. Invigorate your social life. Suggest a walking “date” with your partner, friends or family. Invite dinner guests to stroll around the block after a hearty meal. Instead of meeting someone for lunch, a drink or a movie, begin the occasion with a walk before you sit down together. In New York City, for instance, it’s a longstanding tradition for folks to walk together through Central Park or along the Brooklyn Promenade. In San Antonio, it’s the Riverwalk. What would be the equivalent activity in your town?
Most people’s vacations are built around walks — hiking in the woods or mountains, ambling on the beach, strolling through historic neighborhoods, wandering all over theme parks or the State Fair. Why not maintain that vacation spirit all year by regularly walking with family and friends?
8. Try a walking meeting. Instead of gathering around a table, walk around the block. You’ll likely see a spike in people’s creativity and attention. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey both favor walking meetings, as did Steve Jobs, Sigmund Freud, and Aristotle. Prominent corporate consultant Nilofer Merchant explains how it works in this TED Talk. Because 80 percent of Americans get virtually no physical activity in their jobs, this could be a giant boost for the nation’s health. Also, walk around while talking on the phone.
9. Organize a walking group. “If you want to go fast, walk alone; if you want to go far, walk together,” says an African proverb. Round up co-workers for a lunchtime hike. Grab the neighbors for an evening stroll. You’ll walk more often and more merrily when you share the journey. Think of it as a book club with no homework.
Thirty walking groups were launched in Albert Lea, Minnesota in 2009 as part of a community-wide campaign to improve health. Six years later, more than half are still going, with four to ten people meeting to walk three to seven times a week. Girl Trek, a growing organization dedicated to help African-American women stay in shape, has launched walking groups from Oakland to Philadelphia involving more than 10,000 women.
10. Get more information. To learn more about walking, see the free 30-minutes on-line movie The Walking Revolution, and enjoy the recent reunion of The West Wing cast in a 2-minute sketch extolling the benefits of walking. These were created by the Every Body Walk Collaborative!, a wide-ranging coalition of citizens groups and businesses powered by Kaiser Permanente, one of America’s largest health care providers.
11. Join the walking movement. Americans’ growing interest in walking has sparked a national movement to encourage people to walk more and to make our communities more walkable. This year’s Walking Summit follows up on one in 2013 that attracted more than 230 organizations from 41 states, including the PTA, YMCA, AARP, NAACP and CDC. America Walks, a coalition of more than 530 walking advocacy organizations that covers all 50 states, can connect you with a walking group in your area.
Jay Walljasper, author of The Great Neighborhood Book, writes, speaks and consults on how to create better communities. Contact him via email.
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