The Surgeon General Says It’s Good for Our Health. Here’s How to Step it Up.
The United States Surgeon General placed walking in the national spotlight with his recent call to action, encouraging people to make walking a part of their daily lives and to help create more walkable communities. The call was put forth in an effort to address major health challenges in America, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and to increase access to walking facilities, including sidewalks and trails, for people of all ages and abilities.
In part one (below) of Jay Walljasper's four-part series, Easy Steps to Walking More, he provides simple tips that can help every American adopt walking into their regular routines.
And if you're looking for great places to walk, be sure to check out TrailLink.com, a searchable database of more than 30,000 miles of trails nationwide.
1Find your natural rhythm.
Figure out the best times to walk for your schedule. Maybe it’s first thing in the morning. Or with your kids on the way to school. After lunch. Taking the dog out. After dinner. Before bedtime. With friends or family on the weekends. There’s a national effort to get people walking every Wednesday.
2Seize the opportunity whenever you can.
Take the stairs instead of an elevator. Park a few blocks from your destinations. Ride transit (which usually involves a short walk on both ends of the trip). Swap the drive to the gym for a hike around the neighborhood. Run errands on foot. It all adds up.
Pay attention to other ways you can incorporate walking into your daily life, rather than one more thing added to your schedule. Studies show we stick with exercise more when it is a regular part of our day more than when it’s a leisure time activity.
3Start small but think big.
Be realistic in your goals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommended minimum—30 minutes a day—makes a good beginning. Do it in two or three separate trips if you need to. Then you might work your way up to the increasingly popular walk marathons or half-marathons. (Three out of eight finishers of the Portland marathon now walk, and there are increasing numbers of walk-only marathons.)
4Keep track of your progress.
A pedometer, phone app or other device that keeps tabs on how much you walk each day can be a handy tool. Fitness experts recommend 10,000 steps a day, but that can vary depending on personal factors. Americans on average walk about 5,110 steps a day.
5Identify as a walker.
Walkers are athletes too. It’s good exercise and an enjoyable pastime the same as biking, running or basketball. Claim it as your sport, and you’ll do it more often. Solidify your commitment by taking the walking pledge.
6Make sure your walk is enjoyable.
Find a route that is interesting, perhaps with a favorite destination like a coffee shop, park or great view. Wear comfortable walking gear. Don’t set overly tough goals at first. "If you're slogging through something you don't enjoy, you won't stick with it," says Dr. David W. Brock, assistant professor of exercise and movement science at the University of Vermont.
7Invigorate your social life.
Suggest a walking “date” with your partner, friends or family. Invite dinner guests to stroll around the block after a hearty meal. Instead of meeting someone for lunch, a drink or a movie, begin the occasion with a walk before you sit down together.
In New York City, for instance, it’s a longstanding tradition for folks to walk together through Central Park or along the Brooklyn Promenade. In San Antonio, Texas, it’s the Riverwalk. What would be the equivalent location in your town?
Most people’s vacations are built around walks: hiking in the woods or mountains, ambling on the beach, strolling through historic neighborhoods, wandering all over theme parks or a state fair. Why not maintain that vacation spirit all year by regularly walking with family and friends?
8Try a walking meeting.
Instead of gathering around a table, walk around the block. You’ll likely see a spike in people’s creativity and attention. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey both favor walking meetings, as did Steve Jobs, Sigmund Freud, Charles Dickens and Aristotle.
Since 80 percent of Americans get virtually no physical activity in their jobs, this could be a giant boost for the nation’s health. Also, walk around while talking on the phone.
9Organize a walking group.
“If you want to go fast, walk alone; if you want to go far, walk together,” says an African proverb. Round up co-workers for a lunchtime hike. Grab the neighbors for an evening stroll. You’ll walk more often and more merrily when you share the journey. Think of it as a book club with no homework.
Thirty walking groups were launched in Albert Lea, Minnesota, in 2009 as part of a community-wide campaign to improve health. Six years later, more than half are still going, with four to 10 people meeting to walk three to seven times a week. Girl Trek, a growing organization dedicated to helping African-American women stay in shape, has launched walking groups from Oakland to Jackson, Mississippi, to Philadelphia, involving more than 10,000 women.
10Get more information.
11Join the walking movement.
Americans’ growing interest in walking has sparked a national movement to encourage people to walk more and to make our communities more walkable. More than 230 organizations from 41 states were represented at the nation's first-ever Walking Summit in 2013, including the PTA, YMCA, AARP, NAACP and CDC. Another summit will be held Oct. 28-30 this year in Washington, D.C.