Walk Yourself to Better Health with These 6 Easy Steps

April 04, 2017 6:00 AM

A simple activity can have a deep effect on your well-being. In honor of National Walking Day, consider these tips to get moving — today and every day.

Want to lower your blood pressure, lose weight and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke?

Go take a walk.

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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.

To underscore that message and inspire everyone to boost their daily step counts, the American Heart Association designates the first Wednesday in April as National Walking Day.

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, 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?’”

SEE ALSO: What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Exercising?

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. Adds Greene, with a laugh: “How about instead of emailing someone, you actually get up and go down the hall and talk to them?”

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. Ditch the old or ratty sneakers, too. “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.

Share your steps! Celebrate National Walking Day by taking a stroll around or near your workplace April 5. Post a photo on social media with the hashtags #HealthyForGood or #UMHeartHeroes for a chance to win cool prizes.

Visit the Towsley Triangle on the U-M medical campus from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 5 to grab an MHealthy self-guided walking map or join one of the group walks that begin at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and noon. Visitors also can learn Hands-Only CPR from the American Heart Association and get information about the Washtenaw County Heart Walk.