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Walk Yourself to Better Health with These 6 Easy Steps

Walking can have a deep effect on your well-being. Consider these tips to get moving

contributed by Kevin Joy

couple walking their dog

Before you begin a walking routine, answer these questions:

  • Has your doctor ever said that you have a heart condition and that you should only do physical activity recommended by a doctor?
  • Do you feel pain in your chest when you do physical activity?
  • In the past month, have you had chest pain when you were not doing physical activity?
  • Do you lose your balance because of dizziness or do you ever lose consciousness?
  • Do you have a bone or joint problem?
  • Are you currently taking medication for blood pressure or a heart condition?

If you answered yes to any of the above, be sure to talk to your doctor before you start a walking routine

Would you like to lower your blood pressure, lose weight and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer?

Go for a walk.

A simple activity most of us do without much thought -- and yet something most of us could stand to do more of -- walking offers a host of vital health benefits. And it doesn't take much to get started.

After all, "studies have shown that you get health benefits after 10 minutes of continuous exercise," says Colleen Greene, a senior wellness coordinator for the University of Michigan.

The pursuit itself might seem petty, but the payoff is huge: Walking just 30 minutes a day can lower your risk of stroke, breast and colon cancer, obesity, osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes. It also contributes to improved bone strength, energy and mental health, among other things.

Despite those advantages, our busy lives, deskbound jobs and reliance on automobiles can be roadblocks.

Still, "walking is extremely easy," says Greene, who offered steps to help you put one foot in front of the other.

Simple ways to walk more

    Make it a habit. Repetition breeds routine. For busy folks who might forget to walk, Greene has practical advice: Put it in your calendar. "Literally give yourself an appointment -- schedule it as 'me time,'" Greene says. "People don't think of themselves as a priority." Those with two daily breaks and a lunch hour ought to take advantage of the recurring windows to walk.

    Make it a group outing. To keep a regimen going (and avoid predictability or boredom), get others to join you. Whether it's a co-worker, a family member or a friend -- even your dog! -- having someone else by your side can be a big incentive. Greene dubs them "accountability buddies" -- aka "the folks you give permission to say, 'Hey, this is my goal: I want to walk more. Can you help me?'"

    Make it work. Office types needn't be confined to their desks. If circumstances allow, consider a walking meeting where group discussions take place while doing laps. Or, when you can, stroll around the building during phone calls.

    Make use of technology. There's no shortage of high-tech fitness tools and apps designed to follow your every move. And it's certainly fine to keep score. But walkers, Greene says, should use trackers that monitor the amount of time they're walking, ideally 10 minutes or more in a given stretch -- rather than simply the number of steps, which is a less-important metric.

    Make do with setbacks. Sure, inclement weather is a fact of life. But snow and storms shouldn't result in sedentary behavior. Says Greene, "“The main thing is to do something. If you literally can't go outside, just move somehow." Other obstacles offer opportunity. Try taking the stairs instead of a slow elevator or choose a parking spot farther from your destination.

    Make sure you're safe. No matter where or when you walk, don't hit the pavement in high heels or dress loafers. "It really is worthwhile to invest in a pair of good shoes. It's the only equipment you need," says Greene. Beyond that, if you've recently had surgery or other health issues, consult your doctor first before stepping out.

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