Walking just may be the best-kept health secret today! It releases stress, reduces anxiety, helps clear your mind, increases blood flow, improves your energy, helps with weight loss, enhances your mood, and – along with healthy nutrition - can reduce or eliminate a host of symptoms, such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, stomach distress, and more! And with daylight savings time and spring just around the corner, this is the ideal time to put on your sneakers and get out for a walk.
The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports recommends 30 minutes of walking a day, at least five days a week (the equivalent of 10,000 steps daily) for the best health benefits. Here are more top tips to get the most health value from your daily walk:
• Make it your morning routine. Studies show that it feels easier to keep our commitment to exercise when we schedule it in the morning or early part of the day – before we are exhausted after work or get bogged down with other commitments.
• Eat a balanced dinner of organic veggies and anti-inflammatory fats to ensure your body has fuel for the morning. Make sure you stop eating two to three hours before bedtime, and skip the alcohol (which can interrupt your sleep cycle or make you feel sluggish in the morning).
• Prep the night before. It helps to have your walking shoes, bottled water, and morning smoothie ingredients (or a banana) ready to go.
• Include short, power walks as well as longer, more moderate-paced walks each week. Health experts have long recommended challenging yourself to keep a brisk pace, but that you should still be able to “talk and walk.” However, the latest research cited in Prevention Magazine, from studies at the University of Virginia, found that women who walked shorter, fast-paced walks three times a week PLUS two longer, moderate-paced walks “lost five times more belly fat than those who strolled at a moderate pace five days a week - even though both groups burned the same number of calories (400) per walk.”
• Take a moment! If you’re walking outside, take time to appreciate the beauty of the outdoors, the flowers blooming, the blue skies, the birds chirping. Walking is not just good for your body, it’s good for your mind! If you have a favorite playlist – great! That can also be meditative and relaxing. Just remember to pay attention to your surroundings and look ahead for any uneven payment, cracks in the sidewalk, or holes in the ground to avoid injury.
• Warm up and cool down. Within the first few minutes of your walk, stop and complete a few easy stretches to protect your hamstrings, knees and ankles. During the last 5 to 10 minutes of your walk, slow your pace and complete additional stretches, ensuring your muscles and heart have a chance to recover.
• Replenish with water. Believe it or not, most of us are dehydrated before we even head out the door in the morning. I recommend that you drink half your weight in ounces of water every day, and on those days when you exercise more, you’ll want to drink more water. One easy tip: Start by drinking eight ounces of water when you wake up. An hour or two before your walk, drink another eight ounces. During your walk, replenish with water every 15 minutes. This will not only keep you hydrated, but will also help you maintain your energy during and after your workout.
One of my favorite tips is to walk with a friend! It helps me keep my commitment to walking, while giving us time to catch up and motivate each other. Who can you partner with to step up your walking workout?