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Walking Towards Wellness, One Step at a Time

A walk along a beach, through a park, or around a neighborhood can be the perfect start to the day, or a way to relive the midday stress of the job or having to monitor stay-at-home school activities. Getting outside in the air and the physical activity of moving acts as a reset button that can go a long way to clearing away anxiety and shifting a mindset to a new perspective.

When a walk is recommended to improve health, however, suddenly it is “exercise” and there’s resistance. While most people are aware of the benefits of cardiovascular exercise, the thought of having to incorporate strenuous effort into a daily routine can outweigh the prospect of greater health benefits. For people with obesity, experiencing a visible or felt difference may occur too slowly to be perceived as a rewarding enough outcome to warrant continuing with an exercise program. What once was an enjoyable activity is now viewed as an obligatory burden.

To encourage a more active lifestyle may require adapting how the addition of physical activity is prescribed. For some, the idea of exercise can conjure visions of weight rooms and machines and way too much effort — not to mention a room full of fit and muscular athletes. Although the perfect body isn’t the reality for most Americans, it can be hard to imagine transitioning from the person in the mirror to a trimmer and healthier future self. Finding activities that are enjoyable and adaptable is the key.

Walking is a good option because it can be done almost anywhere and requires no additional equipment beyond good shoes. The American College of Cardiology, the Centers for Disease Control and other health organizations agree that 150 minutes of moderate intensity over the course of a week is the recommended guideline. Although that equals less than 22 minutes per day, this still may seem unfathomable to someone who leads a primarily sedentary life. Identifying various options that demonstrate that it can be manageable and breaking it down into smaller chunks helps people visualize how it can be incorporated into their day. For example, walking 37 minutes every other day, or even a 10-minute walk before meals each day would meet the guidelines.

Walking with friends adds a social component, as well as the comfort of knowing someone is available for encouragement or to call for help if necessary. For those who prefer to walk alone but may lack motivation, audiobooks or podcasts can be a pleasant distraction and serve as a virtual walking companion. Or, identifying a target location, such as a library or friend’s house establishes a clear distance and goal. This can be helpful because people with obesity are less likely to set weight loss goals even though doing so increases the likelihood of achieving significant weight loss.

Of course, walking isn’t the only option. Riding a bike — stationary or outdoors — strengthens the heart and lungs, and swimming is non weight-bearing so it provides a full body workout with no impact on joints. As strength and stamina build, the level of activity can increase, or new activities incorporated.

The options are unlimited! Weight loss is a journey and each step forward helps reduce multiple health risks, and offers the added benefit of positive psychological well-being.  Every day offers a new beginning and each day begins with a first step.

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