|By Michael Rosen, M.D.
(Click for author bios in About us)
The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other is pretty powerful medicine. In fact, experts say walking is the single most effective exercise to ward off heart disease — which happens to be the No. 1 cause of death for Americans.
Step up for your heart
Walking regularly can go a long way toward protecting your heart health — largely by helping you:
What’s more, the benefits go beyond these heart helpers. A walking program can also be a boon to your energy level, stamina and bone strength.
6 steps to your own walking program
One of the great things about walking is that you don’t need much to get started. Just remember, while it’s safe for most people, if you have a health condition or haven’t been active in a while, talk with your doctor before significantly increasing your activity level.
Here are some tips to help you get on your way:
1. Carve out the time. For example, you might go first thing in the morning, before the day gets too busy. Or, walk during a break at work or before dinner.
2. Dress for success. Wear well-fitting, supportive walking shoes. Choose comfortable clothes that don’t fit too tightly.
3. Start with a stroll. Your first time out, you might begin by walking for 5 or 10 minutes around your neighborhood. Do this a few days a week. Breathe deeply — and maintain a comfortable, natural stride.
4. Push the pace. Gradually increase the amount of time you walk. You might work up to 30 minutes a day, five days a week — or more.* You can walk the whole 30 minutes at once or split it into two or three shorter walks. As a warm-up and cooldown, add 3 to 5 minutes of easy-paced walking on each end of your walk.
5. Vary the venue. Sidewalks are the safest place to walk. But, asphalt, cinder or dirt paths may be easier on the joints — if the surface isn’t too uneven. Enjoy nature? You might look for safe walking trails in your area. On bad weather days, you might choose an indoor route — through a mall, for example. Of course, a treadmill is another option for walkers.
6. Hit your stride. Once you’ve got a walking routine down, stick with it. And, as it becomes a habit, you can gradually increase your intensity and distance.
Now, you’ve got a regular walking program going. And, as you listen to your footsteps, remember that they’re the sound of a healthier heart and future.
*Most healthy adults can aim for at least 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise a week. Add muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days a week.
Walk the talk
Discover more information and resources at myuhc.com®. Click “Health & Wellness.” Type “walking” into the search box.