Walk for your health: great tips!

Walk for your health: great tips!
Walking is back in the news. The most recent headline is from research demonstrating that walking is as effective as running for cardiovascular health. Does that mean running and walking provide the same cardio health benefits? Yes and no.

The study, appearing in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, said that if you expend the same amount of energy walking that you would running you will get the same benefit.  However, since running and walking do not expend energy at the same rate, you would need to walk for one hour in order to get the same benefit you would from running for 35 or 40 minutes.

Another study, which appeared in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, showed that, in terms of walking, Americans have fallen behind when compared with other nations.

According to the study, adults in western Australia, Japan and Switzerland averaged 9,695 steps, 7,168 steps and 9,650 steps daily respectively, while adults in America averaged just 5,117 steps each day.

The study also pointed out that the “median weight gain in U.S. adults is 1.8 pounds per year, and this type of ‘creeping weight gain’ is a serious problem.” It sure is, especially considering that most of us live at least into our 70s.

Simply adding 2,000 steps per day, or about 1 mile of walking, which should take about 20 minutes, can make a huge difference. We all surely have 20 extra minutes to devote to improving our health.

Bottom line: Walking works. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that people who live in the suburbs ­ and therefore drive everywhere ­ weigh 6.3 pounds more than urbanites who are able to walk more. Manhattan, the heart of New York City, has one of the lowest obesity rates in the country, and many experts attribute this to the fact that so many of its residents walk regularly.


Here are a few tips to help you walk more (or at all):


Make a List
Research shows that having many reasons to walk (or to perform any increased physical activity) will help you sustain the activity.  This makes sense. Any time you’re trying to change a behavior, the more reasons you come up with to support that change the more likely you will be to maintain it.  It’s best to make a list of pros and cons for walking.
 
Your Environment Counts
It's important to understand your environmental constraints and barriers. The biggest barriers or excuses for not walking, according to a study in the Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, are the lack of walking trails or sidewalks, not seeing other people exercising, unattended dogs and heavy traffic.
Ask yourself the following questions about where you live:
 
·       Does your neighborhood have public or private recreation facilities (such as parks with walking or hiking trails)? Are they in good condition? Can you see yourself using them?
·       Does your local public school have any facilities you can use (like a track)?
·       Does your neighborhood shopping mall have walking programs available?
·       Do concerns about safety at the public recreation facilities in your community influence your using them? Do you have safety concerns about walking in your neighborhood? Have you thought about how you can overcome these safety issues?
 
Map It
Safe and precise walking paths are the surest way to sustain a walking plan. Find parks, trails and paths in your area by going to sites like Trimbleoutdoors.com, trails.com, recreation.gov or traillink.com for interesting walking ideas.  Look for a walking path by searching the American Heart Association’s Walking Path website (startwalkingnow.org/start_walking_paths.jsp). According to the site, new routes are being added all the time.
 
Once you’ve found the trails or paths you’d like to use, go to Google Maps (or other mapping sites such as mapmywalk.com) to create several walking routes.  
 
Make It Scenic
Research shows that the more scenic your walks are, the more you'll want to take them. Seek out the best-looking walking routes. Some parks offer trails specifically designed for hikers. Grass and dirt paths are flat and reduce shock and stress on your feet. If you want a little extra challenge, find paths with hills, and take a few breaks if you need to.
 
Try to locate walking tours around your city. Sightseeing is very distracting, and before you know it, you'll have walked a few miles while discovering more about your neighborhood or even a new neighborhood.
 
On rainy or cold days, use the shopping malls ­ before you know it, you will have walked the entire mall as you window-shop.
 
Get an App, Pedometer or Fitness Tracker
There are many great apps and fitness trackers out there, and research shows that accountability helps. Turn your smartphone into a pedometer with the Every Body Walk app from the American Heart Association (everybodywalk.org). It allows you to start, end, pause and resume your walk with the tap of a button; set targets such as distance, time and calories burned; view your walking routes on maps; watch your progress in real time; and save walks for future reference.
 
Other great smartphone apps include Walkmeter and MapMyWalk. They’re all very user-friendly and typically either free or very low-cost.
 
Fitness trackers such as Nike+ FuelBand, LINK by BodyMedia and Fitbit, claim to keep track of steps taken, calories burned and sleep patterns. They are more expensive than the phone apps mentioned above, but they are also great to use for accountability and can make exercise fun.   Most of these new devices automatically upload info to a website tracker or app. They typically cost around $100.
 
Then there is the basic inexpensive pedometer that simply keeps track of steps walked.  You can learn more about pedometers at dietdetective.com/weekly-column/pedometers-new-fitness-fashion-state.... The typical cost is about $20 to $40.
 
Get a Dog
Research reported in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that “not only did owning and walking a dog impact the amount of walking a person does but also that dog walkers were more active overall.” That said, you don’t get the health benefits of dog ownership if you simply let your dog out in the backyard to do his or her business.    

Make it Social
Research has consistently indicated that social support is a significant factor in determining physical activity participation. This support seems to be effective whether offered directly by a significant other actually engaging in the activity or in more indirect ways, such as when one receives words of encouragement from a friend or family member. Various communities sponsor walking clubs; take advantage of those resources and join. Walking in a group will increase motivation and distraction, and will help you challenge yourself by keeping up with the others. You can even create a walking club of your own using Twitter, Facebook or sites such as startwalkingnow.org.
Or go old school and put up fliers in your neighborhood school, religious and/or recreational center.
 
Make it Practical
A common complaint is being too busy to exercise. So fit your walking into things you need to do anyway. The kids need to go to school ­ why not walk them to the bus stop? If it's too far to walk all the way to the store or wherever you need to go, drive or take the bus halfway and walk the remaining distance.
 
Walking Shoes
Before you go outside and start counting your steps, keep in mind that you need to have the proper shoes. Podiatrists suggest getting cross trainers, or shoes designed specifically for walking or running. And, stay away from those "designer" shoes that are all looks but no support.
 
Get Creative
A nonprofit group called America on the Move has actually come up with a list of 100 ways to add 2,000 steps to your day ­ here are the first 12. You can find all of them at americaonthemove.org/usda/PDF/aom_100_ways_2000_steps_english...

1.     Circle around the block when you go outside to get your mail
2.     Walk the outside aisles of the grocery store before shopping
3.     Walk the track at a nearby high school ­ four laps is roughly 2,000 steps
4.     Make several trips up and down the stairs doing laundry or other household chores
5.     Pass by the drive-thru window and walk into the bank or restaurant
6.     Stroll the halls while waiting for your doctor appointment
7.     Listen to music or books on tape while walking
8.     Invite friends or family members to join you for a walk
9.     Accompany your kids on their walk to school
10.  Take your dog for a walk
11.  Start a walking club in your community
12.  Walk to a nearby store, post office or dry cleaner to accomplish errands


And yes, while some of them may seem obvious and almost silly, it’s worth reading, digesting and thinking about how you can come up with ways to increase your walking. Walking is clearly one of the simplest, easiest ways to keep fit, lose weight and feel good.

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CHARLES PLATKIN, Ph.D., M.P.H., THE DIET DETECTIVE is one of the country's leading nutrition and public health advocates, whose syndicated health, nutrition and fitness column, the Diet Detective appears in more than 100 daily newspapers nationally. Dr. Platkin is also the founder of DietDetective.com, which offers nutrition, food, and fitness information. Platkin is a health expert and blogger featured on Everydayhealth.com, Active.com and Fitnessmagazine.com. Additionally, Platkin is a Distinguished Lecturer at the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College in New York City.