It should come as no surprise that exercise is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. In a society where more than one-third (36.5%) of U.S. adults have obesity, and only about 21 percent of American adults meet the federal physical activity recommendations for aerobic and muscle strengthening activity, it’s more important than ever for people to get motivated to move. That’s why there’s a movement (pun intended) going on this month in the U.S. that has everyone walking and talking.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the American Heart Association’s National Walking Day. Initially designated as the first Wednesday of April, National Walking Day has been expanded by the American Heart Association to be a month-long initiative called Healthy For Good.
While exercise comes in many different forms, it doesn’t have to be strenuous or complicated to reap its benefits. Even a simple walk around the block can be very beneficial to your overall health. According to the Mayo Clinic, a daily brisk walk can help you maintain a healthy weight; prevent or manage various conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes; strengthen bones and muscles; improve your mood; and improve your balance and coordination. In addition, walking has been shown to help relieve depression, manage stress, improve sleep, reduce the risk of breast and colon cancers, as well as provide a host of other health benefits, according to the American Heart Association. “An incredibly important way to reduce your risk for a heart attack or stroke is to be physically active,” says Robert Eckel, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. “The first step is to become less sedentary. For instance, get up and walk around several times a day for at least 10 to 15 minutes. And, if possible, increase this as tolerated to 30 to 40 minutes a day of brisk walking at least four days a week. In addition, when you see your healthcare provider the next time, bring them up to date on what you’ve accomplished.”
Given that walking is such a crucially important component of a healthy lifestyle, the American Heart Association has expanded National Walking Day into a month-long initiative as part of the organization’s Healthy For Good movement. Healthy For Good is a program designed to inspire lasting change through small, simple steps. Whether it’s walking, running, biking, swimming, playing sports or doing yoga, the organization’s goal is to encourage adults to get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination of both). Additionally, children should get at least one hour of physical activity per day. Like adults, the benefits received by children from daily exercise are invaluable and necessary for a healthy lifestyle.
Anyone can partake in the Healthy For Good movement this month by committing to move more as an individual, family, community, school or company. Consider joining (or organizing) an event like a 30-minute fun walk or an educational event or fitness fair in your community. Or participate in a four-week activity challenge to support a month-long focus on being more active and creating healthy habits. People are also encouraged to contribute to the conversation and join the national movement at heart.org/HealthyForGood and on social media by using #HealthyForGood.
In order to ensure that you are getting the most out of your walk, it’s important to keep proper form in mind. According to the Mayo Clinic, here are the keys to proper walking technique:
- Your head is up and you're looking forward, not at the ground.
- Your neck, shoulders and back are relaxed, not stiffly upright.
- You're swinging your arms freely with a slight bend in your elbows. A little pumping with your arms is OK.
- Your stomach muscles are slightly tightened and your back is straight, not arched forward or backward.
- You're walking smoothly, rolling your foot from heel to toe.
Along with proper walking technique, it’s important to have proper-fitting footwear. If you are unsure of the type of walking shoe that is best suited for you and your gait, visit your local running specialty shop or sporting goods store and speak to an expert. They’ll help measure your foot and allow you to try on several different types of shoes. However, before you invest in those new kicks, practice walking around the store just as you would outside. Having proper-fitting and comfortable walking shoes can really energize your exercise routine and help to keep you on track especially if your motivation begins to wane.
Some other items you can use to enhance your walking workout include hand weights or trekking poles. When using the weights, the swinging motion and added weight will tone your upper body, and the trekking or walking poles can work out your arms, too, while also providing additional stability. Of course, before beginning a new exercise routine, be sure to speak to a medical professional and always listen to your body (it usually knows what it’s talking about). And remember, getting fit doesn’t happen overnight. With some dedication and a regular exercise routine, a healthy lifestyle can be achieved…one step at a time.
You only need several minutes to take a quick walk around the block, but if you still can't find the time, we have tips to working despite your busy schedule.