Thoughts like these stop us in our tracks before we even start being physically active. We think exercise is useless unless it’s strenuous and leaves us exhausted. But one of the simplest types of physical activity—walking is—also one of the most beneficial. Just 30 minutes of brisk walking, at least five days a week, can lower your risks for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
“There’s a mistaken belief that you have to go out and run a marathon or else physical activity is not worthwhile,” says Timothy Church, MD, MPH, PhD, an American Heart Association volunteer and director of the Laboratory of Preventive Medicine at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “The fact is that the benefits begin the moment you get off the couch.” Most of us can expect to cover two miles or more during 30 minutes of walking. If 30 minutes seems like too much, start with less and gradually work your way up.
“It’s not all or nothing,” Dr. Church says. “We recommend that people get at least 150 minutes of activity a week, but even a little is better than nothing.”
Fit It In
You have lots of opportunities to fit walking into your daily schedule, even if you don’t have time to go to a gym. If you drive to work, park at the farthest point of the parking lot and walk the difference. If you take the bus, get off one or two stops earlier than normal. Take a 10-minute walk during your lunch break and another during your coffee break. Fit in another 10 minutes after dinner. If you’re regularly active, you’ll burn more calories, which helps you manage your weight and other cardiovascular risk factors. Plus, physically active people nearly always report better moods, less stress, more energy, and a better outlook on life.
And remember, you don’t need a “no pain, no gain” mentality to benefit from physical activity.
“Don’t dwell on some preconceived notion you have about what physical activity is supposed to be like,” Dr. Church says. “Just keep moving and focus on how much you’re helping yourself.”
Physical Activity Improves Quality of Life
Do you want to add years to your life? Or life to your years? Feeling your best boosts your zeal for life. The American Heart Association recommends 30 minutes of moderate activity, but three 10-minute periods of activity are almost as beneficial to your overall fitness as one 30-minute session. This is achievable! Physical activity may also help encourage you to spend some time outdoors. Sunlight on your skin helps your body produce vitamin D, which brings many added health benefits.
Physical Activity Boosts Mental Wellness
Regular physical activity can relieve tension, anxiety, depression and anger. You may not only notice a “feel good sensation” immediately following your physical activity, but most people also note an improvement in general well-being over time during the weeks and months as physical activity becomes a part of your routine.
Exercise increases the flow of oxygen which directly affects the brain. Your mental acuity and memory can be improved with physical activity.
Physical Activity Improves Physical Wellness
• Stronger Immunity
It enhances your immune system and decreases the risk of developing diseases such as cancer and heart disease.
• Reduced Risk Factors
Becoming more active can lower your blood pressure by as much as 4 to 9 mm Hg. That’s the same reduction in blood pressure delivered by some antihypertensive medications. Physical activity can also boost your levels
of good cholesterol.
• Physical Activity Prolongs Your Optimal Health
Without regular physical activity, the body slowly loses its strength, stamina, and the ability to function well. And for each hour of regular exercise you get, you’ll gain about two hours of additional life expectancy, even if you don’t start until middle age. _
Sole-Mate: A Friend by Your Side
The thought of being alone can be enough to keep some people from walking. The best way to solve this is by finding a friend to walk with. You can plan walking paths that are convenient for both of you, or map out routes that take you places you’ve never been before. It’s a great way to exercise and spend time with friends! Visit the American Heart Association’s MyWalking Clubs website and connect with others!
Moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, for as little as 30 minutes a day has the proven health benefits listed above as well as:
- Improves blood circulation, which reduces the risk of heart disease
- Keeps weight under control
- Helps in the battle to quit smoking
- Improves blood cholesterol levels
- Prevents and manages high blood pressure
- Prevents bone loss
- Boosts energy level
- Helps manage stress
- Releases tension
- Promotes enthusiasm and optimism
- Counters anxiety and depression
- Helps you fall asleep faster and sleep more soundly
- Improves self-image
- Increases muscle strength, increasing the ability to do other physical activities
- Provides a way to share an activity with family and friends
- Reduces coronary heart disease in women by 30-40 percent
- Reduces risk of stroke by 20 percent in moderately active people and by 27 percent in highly active ones
- Establishes good heart-healthy habits in children and counters the conditions (obesity, high blood pressure, poor cholesterol levels, poor lifestyle habits, etc.) that lead to heart attack and stroke later in life
- Helps delay or prevent chronic illnesses and diseases associated with aging and maintains quality of life and independence longer for seniors
So why not see for yourself? Once you get over the inertia and find creative ways to fit physical activity into your life, we think you’ll agree that the effort to get moving is worth it!