I have an energetic dog, Maggie. She’s a lab, German shepherd mix. She always sleeps much better when she has had a nice long walk in the neighborhood. I try to get her out most days, and I always go at least a mile—usually longer. She gets excited when she sees the leash, and we both reap the benefits of walking. It’s a great habit and something feels wrong when I miss a day.
The President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination each week. The guidelines also recommend that children and adolescents be active for at least 60 minutes every day. A daily walking plan can help many Americans achieve this goal.
In 2015, the Surgeon General released a Call to Action to Promote Walking and Walkable Communities. It’s well known that most Americans need more intentional physical activity. According to the American Cancer Society, only about 50% of adults meet recommended levels of physical activity. Approximately 25% of kids ages 12—15 years, and 27% of high school students, meet recommended levels of physical activity. The Call to Action Summary stresses that walking should be a national priority, and communities should be designed to make walking desirable and safe. Programs and policies to promote walking should be developed with an intent to disseminate information on the benefits of walking, and research needs to be done to identify the most effective means to make a behavioral change.
Fortunately, walking doesn’t require any special skills. It also doesn’t require a gym membership or expensive equipment. It can be done indoors or outdoors. Organized mall walking programs are available in many urban communities and provide the benefits of temperature control, an even surface, and often social rewards as well.
Regular physical activity helps prevent early death and chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression, and some types of cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that at least one fourth of all malignancies diagnosed annually are attributed to poor diet and insufficient physical activity. Walking helps in weight reduction and maintaining a healthy weight. It also strengthens bones and muscles, as well as improves balance and coordination. Regular walking can even improve your mood. States with higher levels of biking and walking generally show lower levels of diabetes, hypertension, and obesity according to the 2016 Benchmark Report of the Alliance for Biking and Walking.
For those who do not walk regularly, it’s best to start slowly. When I discuss exercise with patients, a suggestion might be to start with five minutes a day the first week, and then increase the time by five minutes each week until reaching at least 30 minutes. For some individuals, keeping track of how many steps are taken, the distance walked, and the time engaged in intentional physical activity serves as a source of inspiration and motivation. For some, a pedometer or fitness app can be a great motivator. Sticking with a walking program takes commitment. Walking with others or varying the routine can make walking more enjoyable. The important thing is to help your patients get up and get moving, and that they understand the benefits of phyiscal activity.
I know I feel better, because I walk on a daily basis. Maggie and I often walk with friends from the neighborhood. I enjoy the social component. If I walk alone, I often listen to an audiobook. Since I never have enough time to read all of the books I want, I listen while walking and accomplish two things at once. I hope regular walking becomes a part of your daily routine.