2008-05-28 / Seniors

Walking: The Perfect Exercise

Dear Savvy Senior,

Can you give me some tips on starting a walking program? I was recently diagnosed with pre-diabetes and need to take better care of myself but I hate to exercise. Any suggestions?

Sedentary and Sixty

Dear Sedentary:

More than 20 years of research have shown that walking may be the perfect exercise to improve your health. It burns calories (about 100 for every mile you walk), builds endurance, enhances muscle tone and flexibility, strengthens bones and doesn't pound your joints. It also helps prevent diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, arthritis, Alzheimer's, depression and more. Here's what you should know.

Get In Step Walking is not only good for what ails you. It's also easy to do, convenient (it can be done any time, anywhere) and free. All you need is a good pair of shoes, comfortable clothing and a little desire. Here are some tips to help you get in step:

Getting started (see www.thewalkingsite.com). Start out slow if you need to. For many people, this means head out the door, walk for 10 minutes and walk back. Do it every day for a week. If that seems easy, add five minutes to your walks next week and keep adding five minutes until you are walking as long as you desire. It's also a smart idea to start and finish your walk with a few simple warm up and cool down stretches. Stretching will make you feel better and help prevent injury. (Note: If you have health concerns, talk with your doctor before starting a walking program.)

How often and how long? Any walking is better than none, but most fitness experts recommend walking about 30 minutes, five days a week. Research has shown that the 30 minutes can be accumulated throughout the day (10 minutes here, 10 minutes there). For optimal health benefits, aim for 10,000 steps per day, which is the equivalent of about five miles.

How fast? The right walking speed depends on your fitness level. Ideally, you should walk at a brisk pace that has you breathing heavily, but still able to carry on a conversation.

Motivation

Starting a walking program takes initiative. Sticking with it takes commitment. Here are some tips to help you stay motivated:

Find a walking buddy. A buddy can provide motivation and support, along with companionship and security.

Use a pedometer. These nifty little gadgets, available in athletic stores for about $20, measure how far you've walked in steps and miles, providing motivation by spurring you to meet a particular goal and showing you if you've met it.

Keep a journal. Use it to keep track of your walking minutes, steps, or mileage and total them up at the end of each week to see how you're progressing.

Have a backup. If bad weather, allergies or other factors limit your outdoor walking, have a backup plan like walking at your local mall, or consider buying a

home treadmill or joining a health club.

Join a walking club. To find one in

your community call your local medical center, mall, health clubs, YMCA, running shoe stores or area agency on aging to see if they sponsor or know of any clubs or groups. Also, visit the American Volkssport Association at www.ava.org, which has a nationwide network of 350 non-competitive walking clubs and organizes more than 3000 walking events each year.

Listen to music. An iPod or portable CD, radio, MP3, or cassette player can also make a nice walking companion. For some people, music is a great motivator and can help pass the time. But be sure to keep the volume low enough so you can hear what is going on around you and use good judgment in any situation.

Use the Web. AARP offers a walking motivation program at aarp.stepuptobetterhealth.com, and a fun virtual walk along Route 66 at aarp.getfitonroute66.com.

Look for opportunities. There are various ways you can add extra walking into your day, such as taking the stairs instead of riding the elevator, parking farther away from any business you're visitingwhen you go shopping or run errands, and if your destination is close enough, walking.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to "The NBC Today Show" and author of The Savvy Senior books.

The Gazette does not endorse the contents of The Savvy Senior. Check with professionals about the contents of this column.

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