Talk about fitness and the first thing that comes to your mind is to take a gym membership that’s equipped with high tech machines and has a trained instructor to guide you through to a great body. However, it’s no secret that physical exercise does not have to be strenuous or complicated to benefit your health and something as simple as a walk can keep you in pink of your health.

Not only does walking improve physical stamina, but it also keeps you emotionally strong and mentally sharp. So, turn your daily leisure walk into a fitness workout with just 3 things; motivation, planning and purpose. Once you learn the benefits and techniques of walking, you can transform this ordinary activity into an extraordinary lifestyle habit.

Physical Benefits of Walking
According to Mayo Clinic a regular brisk walk promotes healthy weight management.

  • It strengthens the bones and muscles, lifts the mood and improves coordination and balance.

  • Daily walks help prevent chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.  It may even prevent cancer.

  • You must walk longer distances to burn the same number of calories as from running.  To burn the same amount of calories that runners burn in an hour, walkers must keep a brisk pace for nearly 1.5 miles.  Your weight loss potential and stamina tends to increase the longer you walk.

According to a study conducted by the American Heart Association (AHA);

  • Both walkers and runners decrease their risk of diabetes by nearly 12 percent when compared with no exercise at all.

  • Heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol risks also fall at similar rates for runners and walkers.

This news seems quite encouraging because millions of Americans prefer walking to running. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week. Brisk walking is an example of moderate to intense exercise.

Mental Benefits of Walking
While walking has many physical benefits, it also gives the brain a mental boost.

  • A report in the “British Journal of Sports Medicine” found that 30 minutes of walking can improve mood faster than antidepressants. This is due to the release of natural painkillers called endorphins that positively affect your mood.

  • Walking slows mental decline and may lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

    • A recent study by University of California found a lower memory decline in women who walked at 2.5 miles a day.

    • According to a study by University of Virginia, elderly men who walked a quarter-mile each day had less incidence of Alzheimer’s-related dementia.

Other studies have found that people who take morning walks;

  • Sleep better than those who do not walk at all.

  • They struggle less with insomnia and other sleep disorders.

Additionally, walking can serve as a form of meditation to reduce stress and further improve mental health. Walking is a good way to change focus.

Walking and Cancer Risks
Walking may also reduce the risk of certain types of cancer. According to “Forbes” magazine, a new study by the American Cancer Society (ACS) links walking with a reduced breast cancer risk. The research found that women who walked for an hour each day reduced the risk of breast cancer by 14 percent. Seven hours of vigorous activity reduced the risk by 25 percent.

Walking Techniques and Routines
Turning a routine walk into a brisk stride requires good posture and a purposeful technique;

  • Keep your head up and necks and shoulders relaxed.

  • Keep your back straight and stomach muscles tight.

  • Swing your arms freely or pump them as you walk.

As you start walking for fitness, follow a routine as you do with a physical workout. Walking routines, like other fitness activities, include stretches, warm-ups and cool-downs. Realistic goals will enable you to build on your progress and eventually attain your health and fitness goals.

Record keeping in the form of journals, spreadsheets and digital data is a good way to track your progress. Take a walk to different routes and vary your routine depending on the whether to help stay motivated. As you take your first steps into fitness walking, you’ll head towards a healthier lifestyle.

For more information, visit Careworks.

Author:  Michelle Holincheck, FNP