Walk This Way to Better Health

By Rebecca Shrum

Empowering Health & Wellness

There’s a good reason something that’s easy to do and usually pleasant is called “a walk in the park.” Because walking is a wonderful and uplifting exercise. Plus, when you walk properly with purpose for longer times and distances, it’s even better. Walking can help you accomplish everything from maintaining a healthy weight and improving cardiovascular fitness to reducing stress and strengthening your bones and muscles. And what else? All together now – it helps you maintain your superpower—good SLEEP!!!

Where and Wear?

First off, where’s the right place to walk? Certainly not just from the couch to the refrigerator–ha! The right place is anywhere that’s convenient and makes you happy. Do laps around the mall on cold Saturday mornings. Hit the track at the nearby school at 5:30 weekdays. Explore the neighborhood around your hotel when it’s nice outside, or do the treadmill in the fitness room when it’s not. The possibilities are as endless as a country road, but it’s smart to avoid paths with cracked sidewalks, potholes, low-hanging limbs or uneven turf. And make sure to vary your routine to keep it interesting.

Also consider what to wear. Choose shoes with proper arch support, a firm heel and thick flexible soles to cushion your feet and absorb shock. Wear weather-appropriate, comfortable, loose-fitting clothes with layers in cooler weather. Select clothing made with moisture-wicking fabrics. Wear bright colors or reflective tape for visibility when it’s dark. Put on sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses for daytime walking. You also wear or carry an activity tracker, phone app or pedometer to track your time, distance, heart rate and calories and watch your steps add up and up and up.


Chances are, you first figured out how to walk between 8 and 18 months old. But now, turning your normal walk into an awesome fitness stride requires focus, intent, good posture and purposeful movements. This is the proper body positions for fitness walking:

    • Hold your head up, so you look forward instead of at the ground.
    • Relax your neck, shoulders and back instead of standing stiffly upright.
    • Swinging your arms freely with a slight bend in your elbows or pump your arms a bit.
    • Slightly tighten your stomach muscles, but resist the urge to arch your back
    • Walking smoothly, rolling your foot from heel to toe.

How Much?

To get health benefits, try to walk for at least 30 minutes as briskly as you can on most days of the week. ‘Brisk’ means that you can still talk but not sing, and you may be puffing slightly.

If that’s too difficult when you get started, do regular small sessions (10 minutes) three times a day and gradually build up to longer sessions. Remember that if your goal is to lose weight, you’ll need to do physical activity for longer than 30 minutes each day. And keep this in mind as you become more fit down the road: the recommended number of steps accumulated per day to achieve health benefits is 10,000 steps or more.

How Fast?

For most people, there is little difference in the amount of energy used by walking a mile or running a mile – walking just takes longer. Plan to cover a set distance each day and monitor how long it takes you to walk this distance. As your fitness improves, you will be able to walk a longer distance and use more energy.

Walking fast burns more calories per hour than walking slowly, but this doesn’t mean you have to push yourself until you’re breathless. Instead, pace yourself so that you can still talk. This simple rule of thumb means that you walk safely within your target heart rate. Our bodies tend to get used to physical activity, so continue to increase your intensity as you are able to improve your fitness levels. You can increase the intensity of your walks by:

    • walking up hills
    • walking with hand weights
    • increasing your walking speed gradually by including some quick walking
    • increasing the distance you walk quickly before returning to a moderate walking pace
    • walking for longer
Set yourself up for success.

Start with a simple goal, such as taking a 5- or 10-minute walk during your lunch break.” When that becomes a habit, set a new goal, such as, walking for 20 minutes after work.

Find specific times for walks. If you don't like walking alone, ask a friend or neighbor to join you. If you're energized by groups, join a health club or walking group. You might like listening to music or podcasts while you walk. Above all, take missed days in stride. If you find yourself skipping your daily walks, don't give up. Remind yourself how good you feel when you include physical activity in your daily routine, and then get back on track. Before you know it, you will be reaching for goals that once seemed impossible.

Warm up. Walk slowly for five to 10 minutes to warm up your muscles and prepare your body for exercise. Stretching is also a good way to start.

Cool down. At the end of your walk, walk slowly for five to 10 minutes to help your muscles cool down.

Stretch. After you cool down, gently stretch your muscles. If you'd rather stretch before you walk, remember to warm up first.

Note: Moderate activities such as walking pose little health risk but, if you have a medical condition, check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program of physical activity.

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