Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Getting where I need to go

Each year, the first Friday in April is national “Walk to Work Day” in the U.S. Walking, which can be a form of moderate exercise, has been shown to improve health in a number of important ways. People who walk at least 30 minutes a day can lower their risk of heart attack, reduce their blood pressure, and improve their outlook. Not to mention that walking saves gasoline. As prices quickly approach $4.00 a gallon, most of us can use some relief.

I have a confession to make. I live within a 20 minute walk of my workplace and 15 minutes of my child’s school. I’m not sure how long it would take the crow to fly, but this is how long it takes my feet to walk. My feet COULD, that is, if I didn’t keep making excuses for why I don’t do it very often. Let’s see.

  • I have too much to carry.
  • I don’t have enough time.
  • I have errands to run at lunch or right after work.
  • I have chauffeur duty for daughter and friends.
  • It’s too cold.
  • It’s too hot.
  • It’s too wet.

I do bike to work occasionally. Somehow taking the time to walk somewhere seems old-fashioned and inconvenient. I walk and do other activity for exercise but when I have somewhere to go, I tend to jump in the car.

Why walk?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that on most days of the week we get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity.

Brisk walking is one example of moderate-intensity exercise. If I’m able to do more vigorous physical activity (such as running), I can shorten it to at least 20 minutes on 3 days a week. National studies conducted by the CDC show that at least half of us do not get the minimum recommended amount of exercise and that 25% of us are not active at all in our free time. Ouch!

Walking tips

Using a pedometer can help. In one study, people who were given information about the benefits of physical activity and pedometers walked more than those only given the information. My pedometer is a little inexpensive one I got free at a health fair. It seems that by clipping it on, I pay more attention to how much I walk throughout the day. It sort of becomes my health conscious… egging me to park a little farther away, take the stairs, and walk instead of drive to get lunch. Sometimes, I find myself personalizing it, competing with it, challenging it (“I KNOW that was more than 53 steps!”). Simple pedometers are widely available, at places like local pharmacies and discount stores for under $5.00. Fancier and pricier ones with many bells and whistles are available in athletic specialty stores and on-line. Many sources recommend between 6,000 and 10,000 steps per day, depending on factors such as whether you are maintaining health, doing other activity, or trying to lose weight.

Walking can be more fun when you’re not alone. Studies have shown that we are more likely to stick with a physical activity when we do it with others. Walking time can be therapy time with a good friend. Did I mention, free therapy time? It can be “couple” time to catch up with your honey. It can even be bonding time with children, who can walk and talk while not having to look you in the eye.

But I have another confession to make. I prefer to walk with my dogs or alone. While this may seem anti-social, for me it serves as quiet time. I have a lot of conversation during my job, so I like to use that ½ hour for quiet. Sometimes I meditate, sometimes I space out, sometimes I plan. Sometimes I have conversations with myself and work out thorny problems. Sometimes I pray. All the while, I sweat and get the benefits that my body and mind desperately need. You might say it’s good for the body and soul.

My local County Extension office in Champaign published these other ideas to be safe and have fun while walking.

  • Choose a safe place to walk. Do not wear jewelry or headphones while walking and be aware of your surroundings.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and clothing. Shoes should have flexible soles.
  • Wear cool clothes in summer and layer your clothes for winter walks outside. Don’t forget sunscreen.
  • Walk with chin up and shoulders held slightly back.
  • The heel of your foot should touch the ground first as you walk. Walk with your arms swinging at your sides.
  • Slow down during the last five minutes of your walk so you can cool down.
  • If you have not been exercising regularly, begin your walking program slowly. Add a few more minutes to your walk each week.
  • Walk at least 3 times per week but preferably most days of the week.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to do a few stretching exercises before and after a brisk walk. Keeping track of your walks by a simple notation on the calendar may encourage you to stick with the program, as well as chart your progress. And finally, walking and talking (on a cell phone) should be mutually exclusive.

Making a change

With the 2008 “Walk to Work Day” just behind me, I am resolved to make fewer excuses and take advantage of my ability to walk to work as well as many other places. It’s a win-win.