Nearly every single morning, Jeff and Cheryl lace up their sturdy shoes and head out for a walk. Not a slow mosey, mind you. They move with purpose and briskness. The empty nesters who live outside Kingston Ontario have researched the many health benefits of walking and they can feel them too.
Since they’re in the countryside, they pass fields and farms and rail fences and cows; they know which dogs are friendly, which roadside greenery is home to poison ivy in the summer, and which farm is the one with a barn that used to have a second-floor skating rink. Really, it’s true.
Not only is the morning walk—often up a steep hill at a swift pace—good for their bodies, it’s also good for their heads. It is a timeout to connect, to breathe deeply of the fresh air, to talk and to take in the rural beauty of their surroundings.
The folks at Harvard would agree with them. Walking is a low-impact, do-anywhere exercise that helps lower blood pressure and stave off diabetes, according to Harvard Health Publications. And two large, long-term Harvard studies suggest that walking for about 20 minutes a day may cut the risk of heart disease by as much as 30 per cent, according to the December 2015 Harvard Heart Letter.
But many people need some added inspiration to start — and stick with — a walking program. One of the best ways is to find walking buddies, says Dr. Lauren Elson, physical medicine and rehabilitation instructor at Harvard Medical School. “I find that if I can get someone to walk with — a partner, a spouse, or a friend — that helps a lot.” Even better is getting several friends to walk together, because they all hold each other accountable. “They call each other up and say, ‘Where are you?’” Dr. Elson says.
Find Walking Buddies
Other people find motivation by using a pedometer to track their steps and distance, says Dr. Elson. One review of 26 studies found that people who used pedometers raised their physical activity levels by nearly 27 per cent, adding about 2,500 steps a day.
Most stores that sell exercise equipment have inexpensive pedometers. Other options include smartphone apps that track steps, such as Moves, Breeze, or Pedometer++.
For people who’ve had a heart attack or been diagnosed with heart disease, walking is an ideal exercise because it can be easily adapted based on a person’s fitness level. People with heart failure should ask their physician to recommend a cardiac rehabilitation program to safely reap the benefits of exercise. This type of supervised exercise is particularly helpful for people who haven’t been active for a while.
Read the full-length article: “Marching orders: How to start a walking program“
The Harvard Heart Letter is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $20 per year. Subscribe at www.health.harvard.edu/heart or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).