When you were a child, learning to walk was one of your greatest accomplishments. As an adult, the same simple motion of setting one foot in front of the other can put you on the path to good health.
Today is National Walking Day. Join the celebration by taking a walk.
This particular health observance is sponsored by the American Heart Association (AHA). Although it applies to everyone, it’s really aimed at adults who spend most of the workday sitting. The heart association hopes to get workers out of the office, store, or factory for a 30-minute walk. And not just today, but every day.
If you don’t exercise, or do it only now and then, walking is an excellent way to get more physical activity. Just 30 minutes a day of brisk walking (or other moderate exercise), helps your heart, blood vessels, muscles, brain, and the rest of your body.
Here are some of the things that make walking an excellent form of exercise.
Better health. Numerous studies have shown that walking substantially improves cardiovascular and muscle health, and reduces the chances of developing heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, and other chronic conditions.
No cost. Walking is essentially free. All you need is a comfortable pair of shoes, some soft socks, and a safe place to walk.
Do it anywhere. You don’t have to travel to a gym or other special location. You can walk around a neighborhood, in a parking lot, up and down stairs, in a mall, through the woods, or any other place you choose.
Easy on the joints. For anyone with creaky knees and hips, walking is a great low impact exercise that can also build aerobic capacity.
Part of daily life. You don’t have to learn any new skills to start walking. That means you can weave it into your daily routine. Walk to the store or post office rather than drive there. Instead of sitting for a long lunch break, walk first and then eat. Park farther from your office or the train station, and walk a bit.
Social activity. Walking is a great time to talk with a friend or colleague. In fact, talking is one way to tell how hard you are working. You are exercising at moderate intensity if you are breathing faster than normal but can still have enough breath to speak a sentence or two out loud. If you aren’t the least bit out of breath, you are walking at low intensity; if you have trouble finishing a sentence, you are exercising at high intensity.
Walking briskly for 30 minutes a day is a good way to keep yourself healthy. If you already exercise several times a week, walking each day at lunch or during a coffee break is a great antidote to sitting all day.
Keep in mind that daily walking is an excellent starting point, not an upper limit. Exercising longer, harder, or both can bring even greater health benefits.
You can do this by choosing an activity that makes your body work harder than walking, like jogging, bicycling, or swimming. You can also try high-intensity interval training. This means alternating bursts of more intense activity with intervals of lighter activity.
Here’s how interval training would apply to walking: Walk for a few minutes to warm up. Then alternate one minute of jogging (if you are in good shape) or walking very fast (if you aren’t) with two minutes of walking at your usual pace.
Interval training burns more calories than “regular” walking. It will improve your cardiovascular fitness. And it can help add variety to your walking program and keep boredom at bay.
If you don’t usually exercise, use National Walking Day as an invitation to get started. If you do exercise, use the day to invite a friend to get on the path to better health with a walk.