Growing attention to the health benefits of physical fitness has millions of Americans thinking about how they can get more exercise. Walking, hiking and biking are a few easy options to get people started on a daily exercise routine.
For the sedentary person looking to safely improve their health, walking is the one activity that requires no special equipment or skills. Not just walking to the dinner table or the neighbor’s house, but walking to keep fit. Almost anyone can take up walking, and everyone will gain some benefit from it. Stronger bones, less back pain, reduced cancer risk, depression and heart disease are several distinct benefits of walking regularly.
Hiking is another option, and it is usually just a planned longer walk. A hike might be along a challenging trail in a state or national park, or just a broader view of your neighborhood. Depending on how long your hike is, it can be a good idea to pack a small backpack with water and food like an apple or trail mix. Frequently, wildflowers, birds, animals and trees can be appreciated and identified. Hiking is a good exercise and something the whole family can enjoy.
When walking or hiking, here are some important things to consider:
- Pace and distance. The pace should be steady to slowly increase your heart rate. Usually you should be able to breathe through your nose. The distance should be individualized, but start slow and build gradually. Persistence is important in starting a walking program.
- Document your progress. Keep track of how far and/or how long you have walked. Get a pedometer or a Fitbit and increase your number of steps weekly. Walking 15-30 minutes a day will make a huge difference. Being able to briskly walk 3 miles in 45 minutes is a reasonable goal for many younger individuals. Challenge yourself to improve!
- Comfortable shoes are important. Tennis, walking or running shoes are good for walking programs.
- Protective clothing and sunscreen. Since walking generates body heat, wearing light or layered clothing is a good idea. Sunscreen and a hat may be needed in the summer.
- Stay hydrated. Drink extra water before and after you walk.
- Stretch. Make sure you stretch before you begin, and cool down after returning.
It can take a little longer to lose weight by walking than other exercise programs, but the difference is not as large as you might think. For example, jogging a mile in just over 8 minutes burns only 26 more calories than walking the same distance in 12 minutes. Walking avoids the strains and injuries which afflict many joggers. And you will gain strength even if you do not lose weight. People who walk for exercise tend to stick with it because it is fun. Older, arthritic and overweight people may want to walk in chest-high water or do water aerobics.
Riding a bicycle is another healthy exercise option, especially for someone with arthritis of the knee. Finding a bike with a comfortable seat and the right number of gears for your terrain is easy and affordable. Make sure you ride on the right side of the road and choose a route that avoids large trucks and heavy traffic. Start with short jaunts around town and graduate to farther destinations.
Now Get Moving!
Start your exercise routine by turning off the TV or computer, and close the cover on your latest fiction book. Document how many hours a day you currently spend sitting at those activities and vow to reduce it. It is also a good idea to get a pedometer to see how many steps you currently take in one day, and then try to increase it. The more active you become, the better you will feel. Get moving towards better health today.