Unlike other activities, it doesn’t require special equipment or a gym membership. Best of all, it’s something you can squeeze into almost any day, even if it’s just a quick walk at lunch time or a stroll to school with the kids.
According to a study by Harvard Medical School, walking 2.5 hours a week (or just 21 minutes a day) cuts the risk of heart disease by 30 percent. Even walking 10 minutes a day brings health benefits, including improving mood and memory, lowering cholesterol and preventing stroke, cancer, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes.
Canadian guidelines on physical activity for adults recommend 150 minutes of physical activity each week, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. The minimum for kids is 60 minutes each day.
In Nova Scotia, only 15 percent of adults and nine per cent of children are meeting those guidelines, with the Department of Health and Wellness reporting that 61 percent of Nova Scotians are overweight or obese.
Get the green light
Walking can be a fun activity to get moving, even if it’s been ages since you exercised.
If you’d like to start walking but have been inactive for some time or have a pre-existing health condition, it’s best to check with your family doctor before you start. Your doctor can flag any potential health issues or existing conditions that could affect your plans.
Pick a simple goal, such as taking a 10-minute walk during your lunch break or after work. Monitor your effort—you should notice an increase in your breathing and heart rate. Once walking 10 minutes is easy, up the time to 20 minutes, and then to 30 minutes. Aim for three times per week, regardless of how long you walk.
As you become more comfortable walking, add 30- to 60-second bursts of intensity (where you walk faster or even run, if that’s comfortable) every five minutes of your walk.
Nordic walking is another way you can increase the intensity of your walks. Nordic walkers use special poles that engage the upper body, helping burn more calories and use more muscles.
Mix it up
To keep things interesting, plan several different routes. If you prefer walking alone, keep safety top of mind and always tell someone the route you’re taking. Take your phone with you, make eye contact with drivers before crossing the street, stick to the sidewalk, and wear bright clothing.
Count every step
Counting steps is one way to monitor your progress and help you stay on track. Pedometers, simple electronic devices clipped to your waistband or belt, track every step you take. Some studies suggest they can also boost your activity by as much as 2,000 steps per day.
If you don’t enjoy walking alone, ask a friend or family member to tag along or join a walking group in your community. Walk with a Doc is an international grassroots program that sees family doctors walking each week with their patients.
At each event, a doctor gives a brief presentation on a health topic before the walk and then leads people on a walk at their own pace. A Truro chapter of the program offers walks each Saturday morning at the Rath Eastlink Community Centre.
In Halifax, Dalhousie Medical School students organize Walk with a Future Doc on Sunday afternoons at the Citadel Community Centre. Participants walk at their own pace alongside local doctors-in-training. Once the weather warms up, the group will transition to an outdoor route through nearby parks.
Walking is also gaining traction in the running community, of all places. Most marathons these days welcome walkers, and some even offer special walking events. Training for an event like this can keep you motivated, help you meet other walkers, and may even inspire you to start training for your first 5K run.
Whatever your motivation is for walking, you’re more likely to stick with it if you take things at your own pace and make it an enjoyable part of your daily routine.