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One step at a time: the many benefits of walking

When we think about physical fitness, we probably envision hitting the gym, running up stairs and other types of rigorous exercise. What we do not always consider is that an active lifestyle can include something as simple as taking a walk to the park with the grandkids, or taking a stroll through the neighborhood after dinner. By incorporating walking into our daily lives, we can reduce the risk of multiple diseases, and increase the quality of our lives in a surprising number of ways.

According to the American Heart Association, walking for as little as 30 minutes a day can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, improve blood pressure and blood sugar levels, maintain body weight and lower the risk of obesity and improve your blood lipid profile. In providing these numerous benefits, walking is a proven method for decreasing the risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. Walking also promotes better muscle tone and strength, balance and reduces the risk of osteoporosis, all of which are essential to preventing injuries and improving mobility.

There is more to walking than the benefits to your body — getting on your feet can also improve your mental well-being. Walking has been proven to reduce stress, increase energy, improve sleep, facilitate creativity and help combat depression. Walking can also be a great opportunity to connect with friends who might like to join you, or it can be a chance for some alone time if you prefer to soak up the fresh air in solitude.

Starting a regular walking routine can seem daunting at first, but it takes time and persistence to develop a good habit. Remember that it is OK to start with small goals — start by walking five minutes, with slow increases as you feel ready. As you venture out, make sure that you are walking in safe, well-lit neighborhoods with even sidewalks. Below are some additional tips for adding movement to your lifestyle:

u Walk early in the day, when you are less tired and the chances of something interfering with your workout are minimal

u Find walking buddies for support and encouragement

u Try taking stairs instead of elevators

u Park as far away from building entrances as you are comfortable

u Use proper clothing and footwear to ensure maximum comfort and safety

u Purchase a pedometer to count steps, work up to 10,000 steps throughout the day

u Stand up throughout the day as much as possible

u Walk in a variety of places to prevent boredom

u If you have back or leg pain that prevents you from walking comfortably, find a local pool with classes or times that you can come and walk in water

If you are looking for an opportunity to start your routine in a fun, educational environment, join Silverton Health’s Walk with a Doc program. Each month, a Silverton Health physician leads community members on a 30-minute walk. These events are a great opportunity to find walking partners, and to talk to healthcare providers about steps you can take to improve your health. Attendance is free. For details about times and locations, visit silvertonhealth.org/docwalk.

Jessica Lonergan is an exercise physiologist with the Health Management program at Silverton Health. For more information, call 971-983-5212.




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