Walk Right in to a Healthier Lifestyle

By on July 8, 2018

By Michele Stanten—

Being active isn’t as daunting as it seems. You don’t have to train for a marathon or nurse blisters from lifting weights to live a healthier lifestyle. In fact, you might not even have to break a sweat. 

As the fitness consultant for Tivity Health’s SilverSneakers program, the nation’s leading community fitness program for older adults, I’ve worked with some remarkable people who make a true effort to live more active lifestyles. SilverSneakers is available to more than 15 million Medicare beneficiaries and provides members with unlimited access to more than 14,000 participating facilities. Right now, members across the country are participating in the Million Pound Challenge. The goal? To collectively shed a million pounds in just 30 days. But, is it really possible to lose weight just by walking?

Researchers compared results from the National Runner’s Health Study against the National Walker’s Health study to find that both activities have similar health benefits. Walking, like running, helps reduce risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, all of which increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. Walking also can be good for your mental health, whether that means combating loneliness by walking with a friend or taking the opportunity to walk off some stress and boost your mood. 

Walking seems easy enough, but one of the hardest parts may be getting started. And, before you begin any exercise routine, even walking, I encourage you to check with your doctor. Once your doctor has signed off, here are four easy tips for beginning (and sticking to) a walking regimen that can help you live a happier, healthier life: 

  1. Get out every day

Incorporating walking into your daily routine is essential. Just as it takes time to break a bad habit, it takes dedication and consistency to form good, healthy habits. Even if you only take a stroll around the block after dinner, getting out every day will become second nature.

Start where you feel comfortable and set realistic goals. For older adults, 30 minutes each day is ideal, but should be seen as a goal rather than a starting point. If a brief five-minute walk in the morning is your starting point, great! Even just a few extra minutes spent moving each day is better than sitting still. Start there and gradually work your way up to more time, as needed. On the other hand, if 30 minutes (or more) is where you feel comfortable starting, go for it! 

Remember: adopting a more active lifestyle is your choice and should be as enjoyable or challenging as you’d like it to be. 

  1. Walk throughout the day

If you have trouble finding a solid 30-minute timeslot to get out and walk, it may be more convenient to split it into a few sessions throughout your day. Try walking 10 minutes in the morning, 10 at lunch and 10 after dinner. You also can sneak in some extra steps around your usual routine. For example, do a lap around the grocery store before you start shopping and then stroll all of the aisles even if you don’t need anything is some of them. Or, instead of a coffee break at work, take a five- or 10-minute walk to help relieve tension and calm your mind. 

  1. Switch up your routine 

Interval walking also is a great strategy to get some extra blood pumping, elevate your heart rate and burn some extra calories. I recommend warming up slowly at a casual pace and, after about five minutes or so, kick it up a notch and walk briskly for 30 seconds to a minute (remember: whatever is comfortable for you!). Return to a leisurely pace and repeat. As you stick with it, try increasing the amount of time you walk quickly and decrease how much time you spend at a slower pace. 

  1. Try weight training 

Trying simple weight training exercises just one or two times a week will tone muscles and increase strength, adding power to your stride and making it easier to walk farther. Another benefit: strong muscles help to protect and support your joints, reducing your risk of pain or injury.

As I coach SilverSneakers members who are participating in the Million Pound Challenge, their pledges inspire not only me, but their communities and other older adults across the country. Living an active lifestyle is something you can do on your own terms in your own time, you just have to take the first step.

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Walk Right in to a Healthier Lifestyle