Walking is back in the news.
The most recent headline is from research demonstrating that walking is as effective as running for cardiovascular health. Does that mean running and walking provide the same cardio health benefits? Yes and no.
The study, appearing in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology, said that if you expend the same amount of energy walking that you would running, you will get the same benefit. However, since running and walking do not expend energy at the same rate, you would need to walk for one hour in order to get the same benefit you would from running for 35 or 40 minutes.
Another study, which appeared in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, showed that, in terms of walking, Americans have fallen behind compared with other nations.
According to the study, adults in western Australia, Japan and Switzerland averaged 9,695 steps, 7,168 steps and 9,650 steps daily respectively, while adults in America averaged just 5,117 steps each day.
Simply adding 2,000 steps per day, or about 1 mile of walking, which should take about 20 minutes, can make a huge difference. We all surely have 20 extra minutes.
Bottom line: Walking works. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that people who live in the suburbs and therefore drive everywhere weigh 6.3 pounds more than urbanites who are able to walk more.
Here are a few tips to help you walk more (or at all):
Safe and precise walking paths are the surest way to sustain a walking plan. Find parks, trails and paths in your area by going to sites like www.Trimbleoutdoors.com, http://trails.com, http://recreation.gov or www.traillink.com for interesting walking ideas.
Look for a walking path by searching the American Heart Association's Walking Path website, www.startwalkingnow.org/start_walking_paths.jsp. According to the site, new routes are being added all the time.
Once you've found the trails or paths you'd like to use, go to Google Maps (or other mapping sites such as www.mapmywalk.com) to create several walking routes.
Make it scenic
It's important to understand your environmental constraints and barriers. The biggest barriers or excuses for not walking, according to a study in the Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, are the lack of walking trails or sidewalks, not seeing other people exercising, unattended dogs and heavy traffic.
Research shows that the more scenic your walks are, the more you'll want to take them. Seek out the best-looking walking routes. Some parks offer trails specifically designed for hikers. Grass and dirt paths are flat and reduce shock and stress on your feet. If you want a little extra challenge, find paths with hills, and take a few breaks if you need to.
Try to locate walking tours around your city. Sightseeing is very distracting, and before you know it, you'll have walked a few miles while discovering more about your neighborhood or even a new neighborhood.
On rainy or cold days, use the shopping malls and, before you know it, you will have walked the entire mall as you window-shop.
Get an app, pedometer or fitness tracker
There are many great apps and fitness trackers out there, and research shows that accountability helps.
Turn your smartphone into a pedometer with the Every Body Walk (http://everybodywalk.org) app from the American Heart Association. It allows you to start, end, pause and resume your walk with the tap of a button and has many other great features.
Other great smartphone apps include Walkmeter.com and MapMyWalk. They're all very user-friendly and typically either free or very low-cost.
Fitness trackers, such as Nike+ FuelBand, LINK by BodyMedia, and Fitbit, keep track of steps taken, calories burned and sleep patterns. They are more expensive than the phone apps above, but they are also great for accountability and can make exercise fun. Most of these devices automatically upload info to a website tracker or app. They typically cost around $100.
Then there is the basic, inexpensive pedometer, which simply keeps track of steps walked. You can learn more about pedometers at www.dietdetective.com/weekly-column/pedometers-new-fitness-fashion-statement. The typical cost is about $20 to $40.
Get a dog
Research reported in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that “not only did owning and walking a dog impact the amount of walking a person does, but also that dog walkers were more active overall.” That said, you don't get the health benefits of dog ownership if you simply let your dog out in the backyard to do his or her business.
Make it social
Research has consistently indicated that social support is a significant factor in determining physical activity participation. Walking in a group will increase motivation and distraction, and will help you challenge yourself by keeping up with the others. You can even create a walking club of your own using Twitter, Facebook or sites such as www.startwalkingnow.org. Or go old school and put up fliers in your neighborhood school, religious and/or recreational center.
Make it practical
A common complaint is being too busy to exercise. So fit your walking into things you need to do anyway. The kids need to go to school, so why not walk them to the bus stop? If it's too far to walk all the way to the store or wherever you need to go, drive or take the bus halfway and walk the remaining distance.
Before you go outside and start counting your steps, keep in mind that you need to have the proper shoes. Podiatrists suggest getting cross trainers, or shoes designed specifically for walking or running. And, stay away from those “designer” shoes that are all looks but no support.
Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public health advocate and founder of www.DietDetective.com.