When given the choice to get out there and get moving, do you prefer to watch TV or read or do some other (somewhat) sedentary activity? You, my friend, might be what some might call  a “couch potato.”

Quiet time is valuable, but so is physical movement. Many combine the two by walking while listening to a book or talking on the phone. Others choose to hit the gym for a sweaty workout. Still, others join the Swan Family Wellness Center and participate in fun classes like yoga and tai chi, or use the beautiful indoor swimming pool for exercise and relaxation.

Regardless, it’s April – National “Move More” Month, according to the American Heart Association. Move More Month is all about inspiring us to spend less time on the couch, and more time up and about.

“Beginning a walking routine is a great starting point due to the low impact on the joints making it a pretty sustainable routine,” said Tyson Burwell, COTA, director of the Swan Family Wellness Center.

April is the perfect time of year to commit (or recommit) to a healthier lifestyle and aim for daily fitness goals. When was the last time you hit 10,000 steps in a day? When was the last time you took a walk around the block?

Walking Your Way to Fitness

The benefits of walking are immeasurable. Studies have shown that incorporating walking into your daily routine may:

  • Help you lose weight – You’re burning calories and building muscle; key elements in your weight loss journey.
  • Bump up your brain power – Studies have shown that aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) increases the size activity in the hippocampus, which is the area of the brain responsible for memory.
  • Improve your sleep quality – Good quality sleep is important for our overall wellness. Try walking in the morning. The early daylight helps your body’s own circadian rhythm stay in tune, so when night falls, your body will naturally be ready to sleep.
  • Reduce stress – You’ll often hear walkers say that they do their best thinking while they walk. It’s true! There’s nothing like a long walk to help clear your head. The rhythm of your breathing and steps adds to the meditative calm that walking generates.
  • Strengthen muscles and bones – As we age, we lose bone density and muscle mass. Weight-bearing exercise like walking has been shown to slow bone loss, and may even build bone over time. Walking will also increase your muscle mass, which helps to support your skeleton.
  • Potentially increase life expectancy – A sedentary lifestyle increases your risk for heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure – all life-threatening health concerns. So, it’s no surprise that an active lifestyle may very well result in more years. If walking isn’t for you, choose another activity. Regular physical activity improves cardiovascular health. Full stop.

What’s on My Shopping List?

As exercise goes, embarking on a walking program is about as easy as it gets. You already know how to walk, right? Further, Burwell said, “Walking is a good ‘gateway’ exercise that can lead to other healthy habits.”

While you don’t need any special equipment to get started, you might consider the following:

  • Quality Walking Shoes – Your feet deserve some love. After all, they’re supporting your entire weight for 10,000 or more steps, each and every day! Invest in a high-quality pair of walking shoes to keep your feet happy. Find an athletic shoe store that will analyze your walking gait, so that you purchase shoes that work best for you. It might be tempting to purchase the squishiest pair of walking shoes you can find, but your feet may feel better with a more structured shoe that provides increased support.
  • Clothing – Look for stretchy layers that won’t inhibit your motion. For next-to-skin comfort, look for fabrics that claim to wick moisture away from your skin, which will help to keep you dry and comfortable. Look for reflective details on your outermost layer, to improve your visibility to others in low-light conditions, keeping you safe.
  • Fitness Tracker – FitBit® or AppleWatch® are two of the most well-known devices to strap onto your wrist. They measure your steps, calories burned and heart rate along with a multitude of other functions, depending on the model. They’re a fun and easy way to track your progress over time.
  • Walking Poles – Have you heard of Nordic walking? Incorporating specially designed walking poles into your daily routine adds a tremendous upper body workout to your exercise. They’re especially effective for folks just starting out, because they increase the impact of your walk, without you having to walk faster. Walking with poles also helps to relieve knee and other joint issues, especially on the downhill. And, they’re a comforting assist for those with balance challenges.

Getting Started

You already know how to walk, right? Below, you’ll find a few tips on how to get going on your new and exciting walking program.

  • Start slow – If you do indeed identify as a “couch potato,” it may take a little time to get into the swing of a regular walking routine. And, that’s okay! Do what you can, even if that means you only make it to the corner and back. Try to push yourself each day to go a little farther, and maybe a little faster. You’ll amaze yourself at how quickly your walking fitness will improve. Use your fitness tracker to visualize your progress!
  • Choose your route – At the beginning, look for terrain that is mostly level, with only gentle inclines and declines. Choose areas with less automobile traffic for greater safety, or look for parks that have paved walking/bicycling paths. If outdoors isn’t an option for you, your local shopping mall is a great space for fitness walking. Another indoor option is a good-quality treadmill, right in your own home. Or, visit the Swan Family Wellness Center to learn about some other great indoor exercise options. No excuses!
  • Give yourself a break –  If you are thinking that you wish you could be a runner, reconsider the benefits of taking it slowly. “Walking allows people with injuries to be able to stay healthy without the impact of running,” Burwell said. “Plus, a walking routine is easier to maintain and has less likelihood of causing injuries down the road.”
  • Grab a buddy (or dog) – Form a walking club at work, and spend lunch hours together getting healthy. Or, plan to meet the girls at the park for a walk first, coffee after. Don’t forget the dog! Fitness is important for our four-legged companions too!

Ready, set, GO!

As with any new fitness program, it’s best to check with your healthcare professional before starting. Walking is a safe and effective way to improve your overall physical and mental health. Once it becomes part of your daily routine, you’ll be hooked!