Walking works — in a lot of ways. A brisk-paced walk can help you and your family look and feel better, increase energy and pick up your spirits.
Walking can work to improve your health, too. A regular routine of brisk-paced walking daily can help you lose weight, lower cholesterol, strengthen your heart and reduce the likelihood of serious health problems down the road. And with America spending more than ever on preventable health problems like heart disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and conditions associated with obesity such as arthritis, every step counts.
While any increase in walking will help promote good health, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports recommends 30 minutes a day, on five or more days a week, or 10,000 steps daily, to produce the best, long-term health benefits for most individuals. That is why Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans have launched WalkingWorks.
Before you start your walking program, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports recommends following a few basic principles that will help keep you safe and comfortable:
- If you have a health condition or have not done any regular physical activity for a long time (men over 40, women over 50), talk with your doctor before starting any new exercise program.
- Choose comfortable, supportive shoes, such as running, walking, or cross training shoes, or light hiking boots.
- If you're going for a longer walk, warm up with stretching exercises and include a cool-down period to reduce stress on your heart and muscles.
- Maintain a brisk pace. You should work hard to keep up your pace but still be able to talk while walking.
- Practice correct posture — head upright, arms bent at the elbow and swinging as you stride. Drink plenty of water before, during and after walking to cool working muscles and keep your body hydrated.
Starting the WalkingWorks Program
Your WalkingWorks Plan
To avoid injury, consider starting out slowly. Unless you are already walking a lot, it may take a while before you reach the 10,000 steps goal. Follow these steps to establish your individual goal and shape your program:
- BASELINE. There are two ways to track your progress, either by tracking time or steps. If you are using a pedometer, count your steps for seven days; if you don't have a pedometer, follow the recommendations of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports - begin with 30 minutes of brisk-paced walking at least five days each week. Keep a log to track the amount of daily walking activity you are currently doing. This will establish your baseline. Include all of your normal walking activities, such as walking up the stairs at home, walking to work, etc. At the end of each day, tally your total steps in the walking log. If you are not using a pedometer, keep track of the minutes you spend walking and apply the same principle with steps.
- BENCHMARK. Your benchmark is the highest number of steps or minutes you walked on any given day while establishing your baseline the first week. Use that number as your daily goal for the second and third weeks. Log your daily walks, and at the end of the third week, review your log. If you averaged your goal, add another 500 steps or several more minutes to your daily goal for the fourth and fifth weeks.
- BUILD. At the end of each 2-week period, try to add 500 steps or several more minutes to your walking goal. If you had difficulty reaching your goal, walk at the same level until you build enough endurance to increase your target. Continue to log your activity to prevent slipping back or dropping out. If you find yourself falling behind your average daily goal, try not to become discouraged. To maintain your motivation, keep logging your progress and stay with the same number of steps or minutes instead of increasing your target. Keep in mind that 10,000 steps may not be a realistic goal for everyone. If you are very overweight or have other chronic health problems, talk with your doctor to determine a goal that may be more appropriate.
Is 10,000 Steps Too Few for You?
For some people, 10,000 steps are too few to meet ultimate health or weight loss goals. For example, individuals who are already walking 7,000 or 8,000 steps per day may not get enough benefit from increasing to just 10,000. If this applies to you, ultimately aim to add a total of 7,600 steps to your current daily total, adding 500 steps every two weeks as indicated in the plan. You also can add hills, stairs, or arm weights to your routine, to make your walks more challenging.
Use this log to track your progress every day. Reward yourself as you make progress toward your goals. As you track your steps, take a few minutes each day to sit down and relax. Think about the good feelings that exercise gives you, and reflect on what you've accomplished. This type of internal reward can help you make a long-term commitment to regular exercise.
Click here for a printer-ready copy of the WalkingWorks log.
Links to Health Organizations
For additional information on the benefits of walking and other health issues, please check out the following organizations.
Presidents Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
American Diabetes Association
American Heart Association
American Lung Association