By: Jean Johnson for Knee1
Walking works, says the U.S. Surgeon General. A minimum of 30 minutes of brisk walking for at least five days a week makes for all around better health. Indeed, not only the Surgeon General but also the chairman of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Lynn C. Swann, is making a plea to the American people to do their part in stemming the nation’s overweight and obesity epidemic.
|Plan for the Pay-offs of Walking|
Give Yourself an Internal Reward: After walking, take a few minutes to sit down and relax. Think about the good feelings exercise gives you, and reflect on what you’ve accomplished. This type of internal reward can help you make a long-term commitment to regular walking.
Give Yourself an External Reward: Walking shoes and togs, a new jacket, a portable radio or CD player with earphones. When you see them, you’ll want to keep walking.
Have a goal: Shoot for six weeks of walking and chart your progress.
“What if there were a drug that helped reduce the risk of developing or dying from heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, colon cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis, depression and anxiety?” Swann said in 2004 testimony before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. “We’d probably demand that it be put in the public water supply. Everyone would clamor to have access to this magic pill.”
But, says Swann, the answer is simple and within our grasp; walking will do the trick. Knee, hip, and ankle joints will stay in motion and preventable cardiovascular health problems will decrease. More, we’ll all blow off some of the anxiety-producing stress that modern life creates.
Just 30 minutes walking at least five times a week, is what Swann is calling for.
Try a Pedometer
Get a pedometer if you’re a gadget-geek or want a scientific approach to changing your activity habits. Ten thousand steps daily is another way to measure getting the recommended activity.
By wearing a pedometer, people who can’t get in 30 minutes at a shot, can track their overall steps over the course of the day – and gradually increase their targets from their own personal baseline starting points.
The small devices clip onto a belt or waistband where silently and unobtrusively, they stick with a person through thick and thin while they rack up their numbers. Data junkies can even download week by week forms to measure their progress from the federal government’s Walking Works Web site.
Before rushing out to buy a pedometer, though, know that the prices range from inexpensive models to state-of-the-art types available on the Web from various supply houses. According to David Bassett, Ph.D. of the University of Tennessee, “The pedometers sold at Wal-Mart, Target, et cetera tend to be of lesser quality.” Bassett ranks pedometers into five tiers and noted that “The fourth and fifth-tier pedometers are not really ones I’d recommend.” He added that research showed that the cheapest pedometers that are sometimes given away for free can miscount the number of steps the wearer takes by as much as 25 percent or more.
That said Lauren Howard, of Milwaukee, Ore., wears a $30 pedometer that he swears by. “I’m not too much into the science of all this,” he said, “but my sister got this pedometer at a weight loss clinic. Her program sort of fizzled so she gave the counter to me. It’s helped me get going more, it really has. I have a desk job, and I used to just get on a treadmill for 25 minutes and then do some weights for another 10. I figured that was enough for the day.
“What I found was that I was only getting about 5,000 steps,” Howard said. “So I started making an effort to go for a walk in the evenings. Over to the neighborhood library and to the store. That sort of thing since I tend to be goal-oriented. Then again, sometimes I just go out around the neighborhood after dinner. I got so I really wanted to see that figure over 10,000 – since my longer-term goal is 15,000. Also, on days when I was more active cleaning the house or working in the yard, I got credit for that and could slack off at night.”
Howard laughs and runs a hand through his sandy hair. “Just listening to myself I sound like such a city nerd. But I sure feel better, so I’m not going to start second guessing the routine. I read somewhere that now that we’re off the farm, we really do have to approach getting enough activity in a fairly circumscribed way. It’s just not automatic any more.”
The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports warns that those who have health conditions or who have not been physically active for years – especially men over 40 and women over 50 – should talk to their physicians before turning over a new leaf and making a commitment to increased activity. Warm-ups and cool-downs are important as well to reduce stress on the heart and muscles. Also drinking plenty of water before, during and after walking keeps the body well hydrated.
With the above recommendations in place, those interested in getting some walking into their lives need just abide by a few guidelines. The rule of thumb for average adults in relatively good physical condition is 10,000 steps a day for long-term health and reduced chronic disease susceptibility.
For those trying to loose weight and keep it off, 12,000 to 15,000 steps daily is the target. Finally, people interested in enhancing cardiac function to build aerobic fitness are advised to pick up the pace for 3,000 of their daily steps.
The After Dinner Walk
The government’s program on fitness, called Walking Works, singles out the after dinner walk as a great way to get the whole family moving.
“I remember one colleague of mine back when I worked at the bank,” said Eleanor Bartels of Seattle, Wash. “She jogged every night after work. I admired her, but I just could never get myself going. I think one of the reasons was my family never did anything like that. Once she and I were talking, and she told me how her parents who were ranchers in Colorado always took a walk after dinner. She had good role models.”
Bartels explains that she’s still trying to get herself to take a walk in the evenings. “I make it out sometimes, but not very often. Now that I’ve talked about it a little, who knows I might go out tonight now that the worse of the winter weather’s behind us.”
Motivation and Rewards
Like Bartels notes, cultivating any new habit takes some doing. The Walking Works literature has an answer for this as well. Keep a log, it says, so that you will have tangible proof of your efforts. Also, avoid “all or nothing” thinking and simply do what you can as the days go by.
Additionally, Walking Works had one particularly good piece of advice that we at Knee1 had not seen before. After you finish your walk and record your steps, “take a few minutes to sit down and relax. Think about the good feelings exercise gives you, and reflect on what you’ve accomplished. This type of internal reward can help you make a long-term commitment to regular walking.”
External rewards are more commonly suggested and play a part in developing new habits as well. In this case, a new pair of walking shoes, a jacket or comfortable clothes might serve as inspiration. If kids – even big ‘kids’ – are involved, a special weekend excursion to the ice rink or beach could be the payoff. Walking Works also points out that children need 60 minutes daily, twice that of adults. Youth who want to make a commitment and walk 60 minutes a day, five days a week for six weeks running are eligible to receive a Presidential Active Lifestyle Award. (Also at the Walking Works Web site.
In addition to the obvious and well-known physical benefits, according to the Walk Works folks, walking and being more active “helps you maintain a positive mental outlook to avoid depression and anxiety.”
“I’ll second that. I feel great when I go for a walk,” said Tish Mendoza of Gresham, Ore., laughing. “What’s amazing to me is how quickly I forget. I’ll go out and say ‘this is so wonderful, I’m going to do it every single day.’ Then the next evening will come, and I’ll be so tired from work. Half the time I don’t even remember that taking a walk is an option. And when I do, I will often just blow it off.”
Ready, Set, Go
Like Bartels, Mendoza is inspired by all the attention from the President’s Council.
“I’m going to really do it this time. I like the idea of six weeks. Of going for a goal. So my pledge is to get my pedometer clipped on every morning like I have not been doing.” Mendoza laughs some more.
“And then I’m going to have my goal set for 10,000 steps including 3,000 fast ones five days week for six weeks. If I do that, I’m going to take myself to the beach for the weekend. I promise.”