Walking for the health of it

Walking provides a variety of health benefits, offers a variety of options and locations, and requires little equipment — other than supportive shoes and some protective gear in cool, hot or wet weather. Walking is something most everyone can do no matter their age, and it rarely costs anything other than a little time and commitment.

“Unless someone has an orthopedic concern that might prohibit them, most people are capable of walking. Exercise should not be intimidating. Walking is inviting and enjoyable for most people,” said Heather Foy, Wellness Coordinator at Norton King’s Daughters’ Health.

Common benefits extend beyond physical health, too, especially when you focus on walking at a pace that increases your heart rate.

“Brisk walking can help improve aerobic fitness and cardiovascular health by lowering blood pressure and blood sugar levels, and improving cholesterol,” Heather said. “Walking (and any exercise in general) can reduce stress and anxiety, alleviate depression, boost energy, improve mood, improve balance, and assist with weight loss or weight maintenance.”

Increasing intensity, such as moving at a faster pace, adding hills or inclines, and extending duration allows you to up your walking game. Challenging yourself is important if you want to see greater results.

“If you are still walking the same 2-mile path at a comfortable pace, it might be time for a change,” Heather said. “To actually improve fitness and feel
the health benefits from walking, we need to make intentional efforts.”

The best way to start walking? Stop waiting and get moving. Heather recommends the best ways to stay motivated are to schedule walking time on your calendar, track your progress and find someone to walk with you.

“Find someone who will commit to checking in with you, walking with you and holding you accountable,” she said. “Walking a dog, enjoying music or podcasts, finding new routes and keeping an exercise log are all ways to make walking more enjoyable. Change things up to keep it interesting.”

Safety is important, too. If you choose to walk at dawn or dusk, invest in reflective gear and carry a flashlight. Avoid walking in unfamiliar locations or
wooded areas when alone, especially when it’s dark. Pay attention to your surroundings. Carry a whistle, and let someone know where you are. If you listen to music, keep the volume low or consider using just one ear bud. Avoid looking at your cellphone.

“Take advantage of sidewalks when available,” Heather said. “Watch for uneven surfaces and remember that walkers (and runners) should be on the
left side of the road, facing traffic.”

Paying attention to the weather is equally important. Wear layers and dress for the forecast. Don’t forget to stay hydrated, especially when it’s hot and humid. Bring water with you and consider planning a route where water is available. A hat, sunglasses and sunscreen can protect your skin from sun exposure.

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