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Walking: Make every step count

Walking is perhaps one of the easiest things you can do to stay healthy. Unlike other fitness activities that require special equipment or a membership fee, all you really need are a healthy pair of legs and feet, some good walking shoes and a safe place to walk.

walkingIf you're new to fitness, you’ll probably start feeling some of the benefits—like a better disposition and improved stamina—pretty quickly. In one study, 18 overweight, sedentary women were given pedometers (small devices that count your steps) and instructed to take 10,000 steps each day. After just a few weeks of increased activity, the women reported a greater sense of well-being and were found to have lower blood pressure and better control of their blood sugar.

Starting a walking program
You certainly don't need to buy a pedometer to enjoy the health benefits of walking. But if you enjoy having a goal to work toward each day, you may want to invest in one of these easy-to-use gadgets. You simply clip the pedometer to your waistband, push a button and let it do the counting for you. You'll be able to keep track of your physical activity and set goals for improvement. Simple pedometers cost around $20 and can be found in sporting goods stores and online. Pedometers with added features, such as those that record calories burned, speed and distance, can cost more.

If you've been inactive, start your new walking program slowly. Try a 10-minute walk three times a week and work your way up to 30 minutes of brisk walking five or more days a week. Gradually increase your pace and intensity. Make sure you talk to your healthcare provider if you are over 50 or have medical conditions such as a history of heart trouble, high blood pressure, chest pains, arthritis, dizziness or fainting.

You'll want to aim for at least 10,000 steps each day. Why 10,000 steps? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend that Americans accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week. That’s roughly equivalent to 10,000 steps (about five miles) a day, which can reduce your risk for disease and keep your weight in check.

But you don't need to walk 10,000 steps all at once: Your daily routine may use up 3,000 steps. Adding short bouts of activity throughout the day can help you total 10,000. Here's how to use your pedometer to reach this goal:

  1. Attach a pedometer to your belt in the morning to keep track of your day's normal activity. Do this every day for one week.
  2. Divide your total steps for the week by 7 to get an average day's steps for week one.
  3. The following week, begin increasing your daily steps by adding 50 to 250 steps to your total each day.

Let's say you average 4,000 steps a day during week one. Try aiming for 4,100 steps on the first day of week two, 4,200 steps on the second day, and so on.

You may take several weeks to reach your walking goal—that's OK. Don't be dismayed if you can't reach your target every day (or if your doctor advises a less ambitious target). Do keep track of the activity that helps you succeed.

Walk this way
To be safe, talk to your doctor before beginning a walking regimen. Once you're ready to get started, follow these guidelines:

  • Start with a short walk and gradually increase your distance.
  • Walk at a comfortable pace.
  • Walk with good posture—chin up and shoulders relaxed.
  • Swing your arms naturally.
  • Slow down if you become breathless.

Now, lace up your walking shoes and take a step toward better health today!