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Sunday July 21, 2024

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

Walk Your Way to Better Health

I need to manage my weight and get my blood pressure under control, but I have never been physically active and I am not sure where to begin. Can you give me some tips on starting a walking program?

More than 25 years of research has shown that walking may be the single best exercise you can do to improve your health. Walking can burn about 100 calories per mile (depending on your weight and pace), builds endurance, enhances muscle tone and is relatively easy on your joints. It may also improve or prevent many age-related health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis and dementia.

Walking may improve your health, can be convenient and extremely low cost. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes and enough motivation to get out and go. Check with your healthcare professional that a walking program is right for you and your health. Here are a few tips to help you get started.

Start Walking: Allow yourself time to develop a walking routine. There is no need to begin walking at a record pace or for long periods of time. Start out slow. For example, you can begin by walking 10 minutes per day five days a week. When 10 minutes becomes too easy, add five minutes to your walks for the next week. Keep adding five minutes to your walks until you are walking as long as you desire. You should begin and end your walk with a few simple warm-up and cool-down stretches, which will make you feel better and help prevent injury.

How Far: Of course, walking for 10 minutes is better than not walking at all. However, most fitness professionals recommend walking 30 minutes per day five days a week. Research indicates that you can receive the same benefit even if the 30 minutes is broken up throughout the day. Another way to measure your activity level is by the number of steps you take per day. Fitness professionals recommend between 6,000 to 10,000 steps per day, which is roughly three to five miles.

How Fast: The right walking speed depends on your fitness level. The ideal speed will cause you to breathe heavily, while still being able to carry on a conversation.

Staying Motivated

Starting a walking program takes initiative and sticking with it takes commitment. Here are some tips to help you stay motivated.
  • Find a Buddy: A walking partner can keep you accountable on days when you do not feel like walking. Companionship also helps the walk seem to go by quicker and a partner will provide extra motivation to keep improving your speed and distance.
  • Use a Tracking Device: Fitness trackers are portable devices that can measure how far you have walked in both steps and miles. This tool allows you to see whether you have met a particular distance or step goal. Meeting a goal may give you a sense of accomplishment and will spur you to make an even more challenging goal. You can purchase these devices at most sporting goods stores or online. If you are a smartphone user, consider downloading a step tracking app.
  • Join a Club: To find a walking club in your community call your local medical center, mall, health club, running shoe store or local Area Agency on Aging. Ask if there are any walking clubs or groups. If you cannot find an existing walking club in your area, you can always start your own.
  • Keep a Journal: Keep a walking journal by logging how many minutes, steps or miles you have walked per day. At the end of the week determine your weekly total. This is very helpful to see how you are progressing.
  • Get a Dog: Studies have shown that dog owners are much more likely to take regular walks than non-dog owners.
  • Listen to Music: Listening to music can also make a nice walking companion. Check out online options to find great walking songs that will match your pace. You can use a smartphone or other music listening device.
  • Have a Backup Plan: Bad weather, allergies or other factors may limit your outdoor walking. If so, have a backup plan like walking at your local indoor mall, buying a home treadmill or joining a health club.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published June 30, 2023
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