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Walking as a Lifestyle Choice

Everyone knows he or she “should” be doing regular exercise, but most people have not exercised in so many years that they don’t know where to begin. As a result, people start and stop various training programs and routines. They join gyms, buy workout clothes, spend hard-earned income, and ultimately fail to follow-through because they don’t have a clear idea of how to exercise effectively.

One of the issues relates to the many choices available. You can lift weights, swim, ride a bicycle, run, take Pilates classes, take yoga classes, or play tennis. But the challenge lies in selecting the form of exercise that’s best for you, and then having the specific knowledge to begin training in a way that will be beneficial and not harmful.

It’s actually easy to hurt yourself if you’re returning to exercise after an absence of many years or, for some people, of decades. Doing too much too soon is a typical cause of an exercise-related injury. Doing the wrong type of exercise for your level of preparation is another major cause of these injuries. Getting hurt doing exercise is a real deal-breaker for people who didn’t really want to exercise in the first place. If you haven’t exercised in years, finally work up the motivation to start doing something, and hurt yourself after a few days or weeks of your new program, quitting and never going back becomes a very attractive option.

But exercise is a key factor in maintaining overall health and wellness. If you’re committed to the long-term health and well-being of yourself and your family, regular vigorous exercise is critical. The solution, at least in the initial phases of returning to fitness, is walking for exercise. Walking avoids the vast majority of pitfalls associated with other types of exercise. Walking is low-impact, requires minimal equipment, and no gym memberships are needed. Walking is done outside in fresh air and sunshine, providing many additional benefits beyond those gained by exercise as such.

Walking is excellent exercise,1 and yet it’s important to follow some basic guidelines. Starting slowly is the main consideration. If you haven’t done any vigorous physical activity for months or years, 10 minutes of walking at a modest pace should be sufficient for your first day of walking. Five minutes out and five minutes back. Make 10 minutes your limit even if that amount feels like too little. It’s always better to do a little less exercise than a little too much. Add approximately a minute a day, until you’re doing a 30-minute walk at a modest pace. With this quantity of comfortable walking, you can now begin to increase your pace. Ultimately, 30 minutes of walking at a brisk pace will provide sufficient health benefits for most people, based on the principle of five or six vigorous exercise sessions per week.

The long-term results of such a program are profound.2,3 Consistent vigorous exercise helps to lower blood pressure, prevent heart disease, reduce the incidence of stroke, reduce the incidence of diabetes and obesity, and improve outcomes in patients with cancer. Walking for exercise is an efficient, enjoyable, and easy way to enable you and your family to begin obtaining these long-term health benefits.

1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Vital signs: walking among adults - United States, 2005 and 2010. MMWR Morbid Mortal Wkly Rep 61:595-601, 2012
2Lima LG, et al: Effect of a single session of aerobic walking exercise on arterial pressure in community-living elderly individuals. Hypertens Res 35(4):457-462, 2012
3Subramanian H, et al: Non-pharmacological Interventions in Hypertension: A Community-based Cross-over Randomized Controlled Trial. Indian J Community Med 36(3):191-196, 2011

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