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Have you ever thought that walking is too easy to be considered a ‘real’ exercise?  That walking is what you do when you want an easy fitness routine?  Something you do when you are recovering from an injury?  Something you do when you can’t run or bicycle?  Do you ever wonder if walking is really a workout?  Is walking enough?

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that adults need 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity every week for the greatest health benefits.  That’s less than 22 minutes each day.  You don’t even have to complete the 22 minutes all at once.  Exercising at a moderate intensity for at least 10 minutes leads to the same health benefits as longer sessions. And, yes, walking is considered a moderate intensity activity but to reach ‘moderate intensity’ the CDC states you need to walk at least as fast as a 15 minute mile. 

I thought a 15 minutes mile sounded easy enough.  I was sure that I was walking at least that fast when I walk during my lunch break.  So I timed myself using my cell phone clock – not exactly precise timing but close enough.  During the cold of winter I walk on a small track.  I warm up with a .5 lap of slow walking and I end my walk with a .5 lap of slow walking.  I walk a mile or 10.47 laps at my ‘thinking’ pace.  This is the pace that lets my mind wander, brain storm, ponder and contemplate.  Any faster and my mind can’t wander as I seem to concentrate more on breathing and moving faster.  After walking for 1 mile I checked the phone and I was a little surprised to see that I do not walk a 15 minute mile…I walk a 17 minute mile.  So I tried again the next day and I walked a 16 minute mile.  Either way I am not meeting the CDC recommendation of walking a 15 minute mile.

Another way to measure your walking intensity is to count the number of steps you take per minute.  According to this study you need to take at least 100 steps per minute to reach a level of moderate intensity.  I enlisted the help of my son and his IPod Nano stop watch feature to time my steps per minute.  I tried to walk the same pace I do during lunch but the conditions were different from the track:  we were outside, it was windy and I had on a winter coat.  Nevertheless, the first test result was 120 steps per minute.  Second test, 118 steps per minute. 

If you aren’t walking a 15 minute mile or walking 100 steps per minute, realize that you are still doing something great for your health.  A study by Tim Church of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center concluded that walking at the pace of a 20 minute mile can improve your fitness.  This study tracked women who were 50 years old or older who walked 72 minutes per week at the pace of a 20 minute mile.  The study found a nearly 4% improvement in the cardiovascular fitness of the women tested despite the fact that they only walked 72 minutes per week and they walked at a 20-minute mile pace.  These results were not expected, in fact, Church stated he was really surprised at the increase in fitness of the test subjects.

Other studies have also been conducted to determine if people benefit from an exercise routine based on walking.  These studies examine how much walking is required to achieve health benefits and how walking slower or faster or for different lengths impact the health benefits. 

One study published in the January 2010 Archives of Internal Medicine found that women who walked at a moderate intensity level during their middle age years had “fewer chronic diseases and had greater mental acuity” at age 70.  The study also found that those women who walked even faster than a moderate pace “increased their odds of successful aging by 3-fold.”

Another study separated 128 sedentary men and women into two groups – one group walked at their own pace and the other group walked at a moderate intensity level.  Both groups participated in their assigned exercise routine for six months.  At the end of six months, both groups showed improvement in increased aerobic fitness and both groups showed a decrease in systolic blood pressure.  The group that walked at a moderate intensity was shown to exhibit more than double the health benefits of the group that self-paced their walks. 

What all these studies confirm is that walking is enough.  Walking at almost any pace will lead to some health benefits.  Walking at a moderate intensity level will lead to significant health benefits and walking even faster will lead to more substantial health benefits. 

Moving your body is always healthier than sitting or lounging.  Moving faster will provide you with even more health benefits than moving slower.

If you are just starting a walking routine finding a comfortable pace will keep you coming back for more.  Trying to do too much – too soon can result in injury or giving up if the effort required is too hard. 

For those of us who are already walking regularly, we should break free of our exercise comfort zone and challenge our bodies to walk at a faster pace.  Through this increased effort we can maximize the health benefits we receive from daily walking. 

For me, I may have become too accustomed to my ‘thinking pace.’  I am going to focus on increasing my pace during part of my daily walk – I think I will speed up during at least 3 or 4 laps so I will still have some walking time to brainstorm and ponder. 

Have you ever felt like exercise isn’t a real workout?  Do these studies make you want to walk longer or walk faster than you usually do?  Let me know in the comments.

One of my favorite blogs, Fit and Forty Something, recently asked ‘Does Walking Count.’ Read this post.

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Routine – customary or regular course of procedure; habitual.

Routines give us predictability in our day, help us remember all of the things we need to accomplish and help us get things done more efficiently.  Take your morning routine for example.  As you start your work day you probably do the same things in the same way at about the same time every day.  This highly developed morning routine is necessary to get everyone out the door on time.  If you were forced to change up your routine every morning it would take a lot longer to get ready and you would probably forget something important like feeding the cat, giving your children their lunch money or letting the dog out.    

In much the same way that your morning tasks are easier under the framework of your morning routine, meeting your exercise goals is also easier if you assign a place for exercise in your daily routine.

Without a daily exercise routine:

  • You can forget to exercise
  • You exercise only for the time you have left rather than for the time you plan
  • You can lose sight of your fitness goals
  • It is easy to go down the slippery slope that starts with skipping a day ends with skipping every day. 

If you haven’t been successful keeping up with your exercise goals, could it be that you have not established exercise into your daily routine? 

Try giving exercise a priority status in your day like you (should) do for sleeping, eating, working, and spending time with your family.

Take it slow.  As you work to establish your new exercise routine it is more important that you exercise every day than it is for you to exercise a long time every day.  Commit to your exercise routine at the same time everyday for a minimum of 10 -15 minutes.  Nothing too strenuous.  Keep your new routine manageable as your body and your schedule adapt to the new routine.  You will have plenty of time to commit even more time and effort once your new routine is established.

I’ve been using this approach recently as I try to incorporate meditation into my daily routine.  Like most of you I need fewer things to do in the morning not more…. and that is why I rarely have time to meditate for more than 6 minutes each morning.  The important thing is that I have meditated every morning for the past two weeks.  I look forward to these precious minutes of quiet and solitude.  At some point in the future I may find a way to increase the time I meditate but I’m not worried about that now – the important thing is that I am giving meditation a place in my routine every morning.

It can also be helpful if you use a prompt in your day that will push you to exercise at that time.  I have 4 prompts in my work day that push me to walk:

  • After I park my car I walk 7 minutes to the office
  • At the start of my lunch break I walk for 20 minutes
  • At the end of my work day I walk another 7 minutes back to my car
  • When I get home from work my son and I walk my dog for 20 minutes 

Because my prompts for walking are so specific it is nearly impossible for me to forget to walk.  I have developed such strong habits for walking at these times that it is truly a part of my day as much as eating or sleeping.  As you work on developing your exercise routine try to work prompts into your day so that exercise will become an important part of your day.

Checklist for starting an exercise routine:

  • Give exercise priority status in your daily schedule
  • Find a way to exercise every day; use prompts in your day that will push you to exercise
  • Focus on the daily habit.  Don’t try to do too much too soon.
  • Keep at it even when you don’t want to – you will love yourself if you do
  • Try not to miss a day for at least the first 10 days
  • Do it for you.  Tell yourself frequently why you want to exercise every day
  • Make it real – tell your family and friends about your new exercise routine or write about it in your journal;
  • Find support in a friend, an exercise group or Walk Today

One last thought…If the thought of starting an exercise routine now, in the dead of winter, leaves you feeling blah don’t feel bad.  It can be very hard to motivate ourselves to start a fitness routine when it is cold and gray outside – maybe that is one reason our New Year’s fitness goals don’t always work out so well.  Spring will be here soon so now is the perfect time to start planning an exercise routine that you can start once the snow melts and the temperatures rise.  I hope these pictures will remind you of the warm days ahead and will inspire you to start planning a spring exercise routine today.

Chicago, IL

Henderson, KY

Gordonsville, TN

Fall Creek Falls State Park, TN

Tell me how you plan to start or change your exercise routine?  Will your routine change when Spring comes?  Does your routine change from workday to weekend?

You may have heard that the First Lady is tackling the issue of childhood obesity through the Lets Move campaign. The First Lady’s Lets Move campaign is a coordinated community response to a frightening trend towards childhood weight gain.  One focus of Lets Move is to encourage children to exercise more.  As a parent or caregiver you can start your own Lets Move by walking campaign at home to help your children achieve or maintain a healthy weight. 

How serious is the problem of childhood weight gain?  One in three American children is overweight or obese.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the number of obese children has more than tripled in the past 30 years

The CDC recommends that children participate in 60 minutes of physical activity every day.  Our children are not getting enough physical activity at school.  The elementary children in my school district have recess on some days and some days they don’t.  The days of recess are over once the kids hit middle school.  For both elementary school and middle school the block of time for the ‘Arts’ is shared among music, art and PE so that means the children don’t get PE every day either. 

Walking with your children each day will help them meet the CDC recommendations for 60 minutes of daily physical activity needed to help achieve or maintain a healthy weight.  A family walking program will allow you to serve as a role model for your children on how to live a healthy and fit lifestyle.  As your children’s most important role-model, you can encourage healthy habits, like walking, by doing it yourself and creating time in your children’s day so that they can walk too.  

No matter what your child’s age you can start a walking program together.  My son and I started walking together when he was an infant.  Every evening I put him into the stroller and we would walk around our neighborhood streets.  He seemed to look forward to our outings and I loved getting some exercise and talking with the neighbors.  Even though I was the only one walking on these excursions we were creating a habit of walking together that has continued for many years. 

So what do you do when your child grows out of the stroller?  Start off slow.  If you have been using a stroller at some point you will want your toddler to join you while you walk.  Expect that your walks will be much shorter and you will have to walk much slower.  You may be able to convince your toddler to take a stroller ride after your walk together so that you can finish your walk.  If that won’t work try switching from a stroller to a wagon that you can pull – it might be easier to convince her to take a wagon ride when her legs get tired.  Just keep in mind that you are working to create a healthy habit for your toddler and this will take time and patience. 

How do you incorporate walking into your children’s day?  There are lots of ways that you can incorporate more walking in your children’s daily lives.  Try parking away from the playground so that the kids get some extra exercise as they walk to the play area.  When my mom takes the grand kids (ages 2, 4, 12 and 14) to the park, she always takes them on the walking trail first and then the playground.  She started this with the older two grandkids and has continued it with the youngest two.  The walk with Nanny is just part of the fun for the kids.   

Take the family to the park or green way.  Older children can pull the younger ones in a wagon or push them in a stroller.  

Do you have a dog?  Make walking the dog part of the family’s daily routine.  Your dog will love you for it, your family will get some exercise and fresh air and your children will learn how to take responsibility for the family pet. 

Can you walk with the kids to school?  Walk around the track together after school?  Walk home from school?  Can the family take a break from hectic evenings to take an evening stroll after homework or after dinner? 

How about planning nature hikes on the weekend – shorter ones for younger kids and longer hikes for older kids?  Many state and local parks have weekend activity programs tailored specifically for children’s interests. 

There are endless ways that your family can start walking together every day.  Just try to find a routine that you can stick to during the week and plan longer walks for the weekends.  While your kids may put up a fuss at first, I bet they will come around and start to look forward to the time spent with family. 

With the increasing rates of obesity in both children, it is more important than ever to make physical activity a part of your children’s daily routine.  If you start a walking routine with your children today you will go far in reducing the chance that your children will be overweight or obese.  Start walking with your children today and encourage them to adopt a healthy habit they can use for a lifetime.  

Do you ever worry that your children aren’t getting enough exercise?  Share with a comment. 

For more information on the health risks of childhood obesity, read this Washington Post article.

Drink Water at One Meal Per Day

Do you drink water with your meals?  It is a great habit to develop.  Not only is water a healthy and necessary requirement for your body but it has zero calories. 

Try this at home:  drink a glass of water with one of your daily meals instead of the beverage you would normally drink.  As long as you don’t sneak in a replacement drink later in the day, you will consume fewer calories each day.

For example, drinking a glass of water with dinner instead of an 8oz. glass of cranberry juice cocktail will save you 137 calories per day, 959 calories per week and a whopping 49,868 calories per year.  If it takes 3,500 calories to equal a pound then 49,868 calories equals 14.24 lbs. over a year’s time.  That’s 14 lbs. that you can control with one small change in your daily routine.

Scroll below to see the calorie content for some of your favorite beverages.

Beverage / Calories                                                   

Cola, 8 oz.  /  112 calories

Cranberry Juice Cocktail, 8 oz.  /  137 calories

Grape Drink, 8oz.  /  143 calories

Iced Tea-Sweetened, 12 oz.  /  120 calories

Kool-Aid,* 8 oz.  /  96 calories

Lemon-lime Soda, 8oz.  /  98 calories

Light Beer, 12 oz.  /  103 calories

Milk-2%, 8 oz.  /  122 calories

Orange Juice, 8 oz.  /  112 calories

Soy Milk, 8 oz.  /  125 calories

Wine-Red, 6 oz.  /  150 calories

Wine-White, 6 oz.  /  147 calories

*mix 1 cup sugar per 2 quarts water 

Source:  www.ahealthyme.com and www.caloriecount.about.com

“It’s not the work that’s hard – it’s the discipline.”

                                    -Anonymous

There are times when I don’t want to walk.  

Sometimes when it is really hot or cold or raining or my backpack is really heavy with work stuff, I resent having to walk up the long hill to work.  I dream of a parking space right next to the door of my office building. 

Sometimes I don’t want to walk during lunch – I’d rather read a magazine or talk with my co-workers while enjoying a leisurely lunch. 

Sometimes on the drive home from work I dread the thought of changing clothes and going right back out the door to walk my dog. 

We all have those days. 

The question is how do we motivate ourselves to get up, skip the work shuttle, spend part of our lunch hour walking and walk the dog when it’s really the last thing we want to do?  

I always have a list of reasons that I want to walk in the back of my mind that I think about whenever I’m tempted to skip a walk.  Something on this motivational list almost always gets me out the door to walk even when I rather do something else or nothing at all.  Here is my list:

  1. I know I’ll feel guilty if I skip my walk. 
  2. I know I will have more energy after I walk then before I walked.
  3. My walk during lunch will be my only ‘me time’ I have.  Why skip that?
  4. I can’t disappoint my dog.  She has waited all day for this walk.
  5. I know I will be in a better mood after I walk than I was before I walked.
  6. If I skip my walk eventually my jeans won’t fit – I hate trying on jeans.
  7. I love to walk on a sunny day in winter and a cloudy day in summer.
  8. I know if I don’t feel like walking then that means I need a walk.
  9. I’ve never finished walking and thought “I wish I hadn’t done that.”
  10. If I walk then I can eat chocolate guilt free. 

My list gets me walking about 99% of the time even on the days when I have no motivation to walk.  Are there days that you don’t want to walk?  How do you motivate yourself when you get the urge to skip a walk?  What’s on your list?

Do you get 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week?  No.  Why not?  Study after study suggests that as little as 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week can give you a healthier, happier and longer life. 

If there is a little voice inside of you saying it’s time to be more active then try walking.  Walking is an activity that almost everyone can do any place or time.  If you choose to walk you’ll find that the excuses you’ve used in the past to avoid exercise won’t be a barrier anymore.  

You might identify with some of the most common reasons below that people say they don’t exercise.  Scroll down to find the most common reasons that you don’t exercise.  Then learn how walking will be the excuse buster allowing you to focus on accomplishing fitness goals instead of avoiding exercise.  

No Confidence

  • I don’t know what to do – I feel stupid;
  • I don’t think I can do it – I am afraid;
  • I’m embarrassed;
  • I’m too big.

You already know how to walk.  You’ve had a lot of practice walking and you are well trained for this fitness activity.  You don’t have to learn how to work tricky equipment or remember the steps to a fitness routine.  All you have to do is walk.

If you are uncomfortable walking in your neighborhood, find a local park for walking. You will blend in with all of the other walkers – young and old and of all sizes. 

No Time

  • Exercise takes too long;
  • It gets in the way of other obligations;
  • It’s inconvenient;
  • I have to care for my children and/or other family members.

Walking is always available if you have appropriate shoes.  You can fit 10 minutes of walking into your day pretty effortlessly.  Be creative.  Walk around the block or parking lot before and after work, walk for the first 15 minutes of your lunch break, walk while your child is at baseball practice or dance class. 

Keep a comfy pair of shoes in the car or at work so you will always be prepared to squeeze in 10 minutes of walking.  To start, set a goal to walk at least 10 minutes every day.

Remember that your children will get older and your family obligations will change.  By developing a walking habit now you will have more energy today for your many obligations.  Take care of yourself now so that you can take care of others in your life. 

Health Concerns

  • I’m out of shape;
  • I’m too old to exercise;
  • I don’t want to get injured.

Almost everyone who doesn’t have a chronic or limiting health condition can walk safely at any age.  Start off slow aiming for a 5 to 10 minute walk each day and gradually build up to 30 minutes. 

No Motivation

  • Exercise is boring – no fun;
  • I can’t commit – I keep quitting;
  • I keep procrastinating.

What do you like to do?  Do you like talking with a friend, listening to music, feeling the sun on your face, having more ‘me time,’ spending more time with your family or spending time in natural settings?  You can do all of these things and more while walking.  Call a friend to walk or recruit some friends for a walking group, enjoy nature while walking at the park or greenway, get more ‘me time’ by walking solo or have more family time by planning family walks.  When you choose to walk, it is easy to include some of your favorite people, places and things with walking to keep it fun and to keep you motivated.  

No Results

  • Exercise isn’t changing my body;
  • Why should I bother to exercise;
  • Exercise is all for nothing.

A proud sense of accomplishment is one of the first results you will notice after walking.  You will start to feel stress melt away within minutes after you start walking.  You will notice increased energy and alertness.  You will almost always feel better after walking than you did before you walked.

No Money

  • I can’t afford a gym membership or exercise classes;
  • I don’t have the right exercise equipment;
  • I don’t have proper exercise apparel.

Walking is basically FREE.  All  you need are shoes.

If you walk, you don’t have to join a gym, pay for classes or buy special equipment. 

Look around and you will see that most walkers wear whatever is comfortable and weather appropriate…we walkers aren’t into flashy and we seldom worry about what to wear when we walk. 

No Effort

  • Exercise zaps my energy;
  • Exercise is too hard;
  • Exercise hurts;
  • I’m too tired to exercise.

Walking is one of the easiest fitness activities you can do.  Your body is made specifically to walk.  Your body should not hurt during or after walking if you start off slow and gradually increase your time and intensity.

If you feel tired, take a walk.  You will feel alert and energized after walking. 

External

  • It’s too nice to be inside exercising.
  • It’s too hot, cold, rainy or snowy to exercise outside.

When the weather is bad you can walk inside at the mall, community center, or indoor track.  If the weather is nice then take advantage of a beautiful day by walking outside at the park, in your neighborhood, on the greenway, or investigating your own town on foot.  No matter what the weather is outside, walking can work for you.

Have You Walked Today?

Have you ever let any of these excuses stop you from being more active despite your best intentions?  Are you convinced yet that walking can be your excuse buster and let you achieve your fitness goals instead of avoiding exercise? 

Don’t let one more day pass without walking.  Start today, no excuses.

Imagine stepping out your door, the sun is shining, big billowy clouds are casting playful shadows, a slight breeze blows and the temperature is a perfect 72.  On a day like this it’s not hard to get motivated to go outside and walk.  Once outside in the perfect sunshine your walk is effortless and enjoyable and you walk longer than you planned. 

Back to reality….like last week’s record breaking cold snap which submersed half of the country into bitter cold.  At my house last weekend the high temperature averaged 23 degrees.  Since the average high in January is a bearable 45 degrees, a high of 23 degrees is COLD!  Despite the cold and despite my threats to the contrary I managed to forego the shuttle and walk 8 minutes uphill from the parking lot to the office and, of course, I walked the dog – she even got an extra long walk on Sunday when it warmed up to a balmy 27 degrees.

Even though it is easier and certainly warmer to take a shuttle or to stay inside on a cold winter’s day, the next time you are tempted to avoid winter’s cold, grab your walking shoes instead and you will be rewarded.  Believe it or not, winter is one of the best times to walk outdoors. 

Winter Walking 

Why is winter one of the best times to walk outdoors? 

Walking outside in winter is peaceful.  There are so fewer people on the trails, sidewalks and public spaces that you often feel like you have the space all to yourself.   It is quiet.  You will notice the quiet in the park, in your neighborhood, on the sidewalks, almost everywhere…so many people avoid going outside that it offers the ones who do a tranquility that is missing during the rest of the year.  

Walking outside in winter gives you a different perspective on nature.  You will see a very different view of the landscape now that the trees are free from leaves and the ground is free from brush and sometimes covered with snow.  You will notice that on a sunny day the sunshine is brilliant and the sky is a deeper shade of blue.  If you are lucky enough to walk at dawn or dusk you will see the most spectacular sunrises and sunsets showcasing beautiful shades of pinks, purples, oranges and reds.  Amazing. 

Walking outside in winter gives you a breath of fresh air.  We stay cooped up during the winter with our windows shut tight.  Oftentimes the only fresh air we get is walking from the parking lot to a store or office.  Walking in winter will give you a big dose of fresh air and this winter air is healthier for you than the stagnant, ozone-laced air of summer.  Take in a deep breath and breathe.

Walking outside during winter keeps you away from the crowded track at the gym or community center.  Many of us start or renew our fitness goals with the New Year – we shouldn’t let weather be a barrier to reaching our goals.  A lot of daily walkers will tell you that walking outside on a cold winter’s day can be done almost every day.

Walking outside during winter will expose you to sunlight and that can help if you are prone to seasonal affective disorder (SAD).  SAD is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year – most frequently in the fall and winter months when we are exposed to less sunlight.  Experts recommend treatments such as going outside and exercising as much as possible during fall and winter if your symptoms are not severe. 

Keep a Routine

It’s not always easy to motivate yourself to go outside in the cold, and sometimes dark, to walk.  One way to tackle this is to keep a routine from which you rarely deviate.  For instance, walk before work with a neighborhood friend, walk outside during your lunch break or walk as soon as you get home from work before you do anything else.  On those days when your motivation is low just tell yourself you will walk for at least 10 minutes and then you can stop whenever you want.  Most of the time you will continue to walk through your normal routine even though you have given yourself permission to stop early.

Another idea is to establish a shorter outside walking routine during the dead of winter…maybe 15- 30 minutes depending on the temperature….sometimes the most important thing is to just keep up the routine and get out there even if it is for a shorter amount of time.  Be sure to take advantage of warmer days, especially during the weekend, when you can schedule a longer walk to help make up for your shorter daily routine. 

Be Careful

You should be especially careful walking outside during the cold months of the year. 

  • Cold is relative.  Don’t try to walk outside if it is dangerously cold for you.
  • Wear a hat, gloves, scarf, wool socks and extra layers designed for cold weather.  You can always take items off if you warm up. 
  • Wear appropriate footwear for snow and ice.
  • If you walk in the dark or low light, walk in lighted areas, wear a reflective piece and keep a small flashlight in your pocket.
  • Walk in familiar and safe areas.  Stay aware of your surroundings.  Bring your cell phone.
  • Always drink water to stay hydrated.           

Give it a Try 

If you are tempted to let the cold keep you inside, bundle up instead and give winter walking a try.  Discover how enjoyable winter walking can be.  If you start an outside walking routine now, you will feel a remarkable sense of accomplishment and personal triumph every day that you conquer winter’s cold.  And just think how easy it will be to walk outside in a few short months when the weather is perfect.