If you’re spending this time of year rooting for sports teams as they finish their seasons, it’s important to take a page from their playbook to work out regularly. Now don’t get nervous. You can start exercising at your own pace, gradually building up to a more intense workout. Now that the days are longer, with more daylight after work, vow to step up your fitness plan. One of the easiest options is walking, something we’re all familiar with. If you’ve included exercise in your lifestyle, walking can be one more option for staying fit. And if your fitness goals are new, walking can help you get in step with a plan that is relatively easy to stick with. The benefits of walking include:

  • It aids in maintaining a healthy weight.
  • It helps to prevent or manage heart disease, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.
  • It helps in strengthening your bones.
  • It can improve mood and prevent depression.
  • It helps improve balance and coordination.
  • Research also indicates that walking can reduce the risk of breast and colon cancer.

Now this walk toward better health will require a few adjustments to your typical stride. It is important to stand up straight, head up, and eyes forward, with your shoulders back; your neck and shoulder muscles should be relaxed. As you walk your arms are swinging freely with the elbows slightly bent. With this good posture, your body will elongate naturally—tighten your stomach slightly and step forward rolling easily from heel to toe.

To make sure you’re starting out on the right foot, pay attention to footwear. You don’t have to invest megabucks in shoes, just make sure the shoes you walk in are sturdy, with good arch support and a flexible sole. Choose fairly lightweight clothes that will allow you to take off or add a layer if the temperature changes while you’re walking. If your walk lasts until after sundown, make sure you have reflective tape on shoes and a wristband. Take a bottle of water with you to ensure that you stay hydrated. Thirst is a sign of dehydration—take regular sips during the walk, before you are thirsty.

Once you’ve suited up think about the path you’re planning to take. Choose a couple of routes and vary your routine to keep the route interesting. If you choose a neighborhood walk, make sure the sidewalk or path is level without any cracks or barely visible tree roots. Watch for overgrown shrubs or low-hanging branches. If you’re walking after dark, walk with a group along a well-illuminated walkway.

Warm-up by walking slowly the first five to ten minutes, before picking up the pace. Ideally plan to walk at a brisk pace, 3 to 3.5 mph, which will allow you to walk a mile in 17 to 20 minutes. Increase the time you walk by five minutes each week until you’re walking 30 minutes a day, six days a week.

The Department of Health and Human Services recommends healthy adults include at least two hours and 30 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, preferably spread throughout the week. The rule of thumb is to include 30 minutes a day of physical activity in your fitness plan.

In some circles walking is labeled a gateway exercise—it is a starting point for novices that can boost their confidence and interest in physical activity. Once they’ve mastered the art of the stride they often move on to more vigorous activities such as jogging or biking. If you find that walking is the activity that is made for you, stick with it and track your progress with a pedometer—in fact there is a Smartphone app for that.

By adding physical activity to your fitness goals you are well on the way to winning the race for good health.

Take Away: Exercise is essential for a healthy lifestyle. Take the first step by committing to get moving. You can walk, run, bike or swim, just make sure you’re exercising three times a week or more.

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If you’re spending this time of year rooting for sports teams as they finish their seasons, it’s important to take a page from their playbook to work out regularly. Now don't get nervous. You can start exercising at your own pace, gradually building up to a more intense workout....