Fitness First: Put the Spring Back in Your Step

Krista Howell
By Krista Howell March 15, 2014 12:49

The days are getting longer, which means there’s more time to be outside and, better yet, more time to walk.  To improve overall physical, emotional and spiritual wellness, it’s hard to beat walking – and most of us need it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 60 percent of Americans are overweight – a figure that’s doubled in 20 years. One in three of us has high blood pressure, and only half of those have it under control. These epidemics are directly linked to the sedentary lifestyle of our culture.

The answer? Exercise. And the most enjoyable exercise, particularly as the Mother Lode’s hills turn green and wildflowers rise? Walking.

But first the case for exercise: Yes, you will likely lose weight and feel better on any exercise program. But the most immediate benefits are physiological. I have been monitoring blood pressures before and after exercise for more than 25 years and have never seen an increase after a workout. Typically, blood pressure drops significantly after even moderate exercise.

Science has proven this, and I see it every day: Moderate, consistent exercise programs improve our hearts and circulatory systems.

Now the case for walking: Unlike distance swimming, cycling or running, you need not be an endurance athlete to take it on. We all walk and have been since we were toddlers. Also, walking gets us out of the house or the gym.

Yes, it’s possible to exercise without watching TV or sweating all over a treadmill or stair climber. All you have to do is step out the front door, take a deep breath of fresh air and set out.

How to embark on a walking program? Set goals that are attainable and fun.

With new, state-of-the-art pedometers you can set goals, such as the 10,000 steps per day recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine, and track your progress.

You may prefer setting a time goal, which means all you’ll need is a watch.

Or maybe you’ll opt for distance, which means all you must know is how far it is to the end of the block or to the stoplight at the edge of town. You can use a portable GPS unit to figure such distances, or maybe just drive your car over the course and watch the odometer.

Just because you set a goal doesn’t mean you have to meet it on the first day out. If you’re shooting for 10,000 steps a day – about five miles – start with an amount that suits your current level, such as 5,000.

If you prefer a time goal, start with 15 minutes per day and add five minutes each week until you’re walking 40 minutes daily.

Walk at least two and a half hours a week for optimum benefit.

Moderation and consistency are the keys to success and to keeping your exercise goals attainable.

The right shoes are also important. I wear running shoes, which are comfortable, lightweight, and provide support for my arches. Not only that, but they come in a variety of bright, fun colors which can add style to your walk. If you have problems with your knees, back, feet or hips, talk to your doctor or physical therapist about which shoes are best for you.

More tips for walkers

Try trekking poles: These strong yet lightweight poles are designed for hikers and cost around $25. They provide extra balance, increase confidence, use upper body muscles and take some stress off your knees.

Keep a journal:  Write down your goals and use the journal to track daily steps, time or distance. Also resolve to record excuses for missed walks, which will probably make you less likely to skip one.

Walk with a partner: Having a walking buddy, whether that companion is human or canine, can add to your success. It not only makes walks more enjoyable but lessens the chance that you’ll skip a day. Really, who wants to tell a friend that “I just don’t feel like it” or let your excited, tail-wagging dog down at walk time?

Mix it up: Don’t walk the same course in the same direction every day. Try doing it in reverse every other day. Or ask friends about good walks in other neighborhoods. On weekends take a hike in the forest.

Reward yourself: Motivate yourself with a treat when you reach a milestone, such as walking 25 days per month, reaching your 10,000-steps-per-day goal or topping the 100-mile mark for the month or season. But if your payback is a fancy dinner out, make sure you keep walking to burn off those extra calories.

Bottom line: Just get out, move, and have fun. I enjoy Sonora’s Dragoon Gulch Trail because I can take my dog. And yes, she can really make me feel guilty if I don’t take her along.

Krista Howell of Sonora works with cardiac patients and teaches senior fitness.

 

Copyright © 2014 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
Krista Howell
By Krista Howell March 15, 2014 12:49
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