Now that the holidays are behind us, grab a friend, even a furry friend and go for a walk. You will feel great, have more energy and improve your overall health. More and more people are walking as a part of a physically active lifestyle.  Six in 10 adults reported walking for at least 10 minutes once a week.  According to a CDC Vital Signs report, adults walking this amount of time rose from 56% to 62% over five years.  Most people are physically able to walk and for many persons with disabilities, walking or moving with assistive devices is also possible.  Regular walking helps with weight control and provides many health benefits even without weight loss.  Walking is one of the best forms of physical activity and it can be done almost anywhere, anytime, and for “free.”  The generally recognized health benefits of walking regularly are far-reaching: reduced risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression and some cancers.  Walking improves your physical strength and endurance levels.  It also strengthens your immune system to help ward off infections.

Try these tips for walking

Make ample preparations before you go for a walk.  Always check with your health care provider before starting any type of physical activity program.  The following are some tips on how you can enhance your walking experience.

  • If you are a beginner, it is probably best to ease into this new endeavor, particularly if you’re out of shape or easily discouraged. So to begin with, try walking around your neighborhood for about ten minutes at whatever speed you’re comfortable with. No matter how slow you walk, the exercise will have been good for you.
  • Wear shoes and socks that are comfortable.  Use cotton socks; avoid synthetic material as they do not allow sweat to evaporate.
  • Wear loose protective clothing, preferably cotton ones.  Dress in accordance to weather conditions.  Wear suitable warm clothing in the winter and cool comfortable clothing in the summer. Don’t forget your sunscreen and hat.
  • Drink water before and after you walk
  • Do warm-up sessions – walk slowly for about 5 minutes until your muscles warm up.  Warming up your muscles reduces risk of injury. Stretch for about 5 minutes before walking.
  • To reduce stress on your heart and muscles, end each walking session by walking slowly for about 5 minutes.  Then repeat your stretching.

Staying motivated – Starting a walking program may not be easy.  You may be constantly discouraged due to a variety of reason, e.g. bad weather, lack of sleep or too much work.  Whatever your reason may be, remember that it takes patience and persistence to stick to your resolution of walking regularly.  Mall walking has increasingly become a popular method of walking with others. Many malls open early to allow walkers to exercise inside in a safe and comfortable environment. Even if you don’t go there with someone, you are in a sense involved with a group activity. And if you do it regularly, you’re likely to become acquainted with other mall walkers that you can accompany during your regimen. Walking, like most things, is habit forming and you may need to develop the habit over time.

The health benefits that regular walking brings will overshadow all difficulties and it is well worth your effort.  It doesn’t have to be strenuous to produce results.  Even walking for 30 minutes or less a day has been reported to produce measurable benefits, even among those who are least active. 

Betsy Campbell, MPH, CEHRS is Senior Health Educator at Partnership HealthPlan of California, a partner of Solano Coalition for Better Health.