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Wellness Checklist: Take a Walk

Needing to get in some exercise while all gyms are closed? When it comes to simple ways to be healthy, walking is all the rage. You can get active in lots of ways, but walking is one of the easiest! For most people, it’s safe, easy to stick with, and low- or no-cost. It doesn’t require any special skills or equipment. For such a simple activity, it has so many benefits.

Research has shown that walking at a lively pace at least 150 minutes a week can help you:

  • Think better, feel better and sleep better.
  • Reduce your risk of serious diseases like heart disease, stroke, diabetes and several types of cancer.
  • Improve your blood pressure, blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels.
  • Improve your mental and emotional well-being and reduce risk of depression.
  • Improve memory and reduce your risk of dementia.
  • Boost bone strength and reduce your risk of osteoporosis.

If 150 minutes sounds like a lot, remember that even short activity sessions can be added up over the week to reach this goal. And it’s easy to fit in a few minutes of walking a several times a day.

How to walk for fitness

  • Gear up. All you need to get started are comfortable clothes and supportive shoes. Keep your cool by layering clothing, because exercise raises your body’s temperature. Shoes designed for walking or running are best, but not required. Just make sure you have a little wiggle room (about half an inch) between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Avoid cotton socks because they retain moisture and can lead to blisters. (Who knew?!)
  • Easy does it. If you’re out of shape, begin with short distances. Start with a stroll that feels comfortable (perhaps 10-15 minutes) and gradually increase your time or distance. If it’s easier on your body and your schedule, stick with a couple of 10- to 20-minute walks a day instead of one long walk.
  • Focus on form. Keep your head lifted (no texting!), abs engaged and shoulders relaxed. Swing your arms naturally. Avoid carrying heavy items or hand weights because they can put extra stress on your elbows and shoulders – try a backpack instead. Stick to a comfortable, natural stride.
  • Breathe. If you can’t talk or catch your breath while walking, slow down. At first, forget about speed. Just get out there and walk!
  • Pick up the pace. To warm up, walk at an easy pace for the first several minutes. Then gradually increase your speed.
  • Add variety and challenge. Try brisk intervals. For example, walk one block fast, two blocks slow and repeat several times. Over time you’ll be able to add more fast intervals with shorter recovery periods. Walking hills or stairs is a great way to increase muscle tone and burn more calories.
  • Stretch. The end of your walk is a great time to stretch since your body is warmed up. Stretch your hamstrings, calves, chest, shoulders and back. Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.

To learn additional walking tips, visit heart.org/healthyforgood.

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