By Tracey Hall ~
Everyone knows that regular exercise is good for the body, but did you know that exercise is also one of the most effective ways to improve your mental health? Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD, and more. It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts overall mood. And you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to reap the benefits. Research indicates that modest amounts of exercise can make a difference. Walking while listening to podcasts and audiobooks or walking with friends makes it easy for some to stick to their daily exercise program.
As one of the simplest exercises, walking requires no equipment except for a good, supportive pair of walking shoes. Exercise doesn’t have to be hard to be effective. The recommended 30 minutes can be broken up into two 15-minute sessions or even three 10-minute sessions, making it easy to weave into a busy lifestyle.
Check with your doctor before starting any new exercise program if you’ve been inactive for a while.
Establish a baseline. If you’ve been sedentary, start walking three times a week at a stroll for 20 minutes. Work your way up to five or so times a week, 30 minutes per session, for a total of 2.5 to 3 hours per week.
Choose distance or time. Some walkers focus on distance, others target time
Check the intensity. Exercising at a particular heart rate enables you to gauge the difficulty of your workout.
You can also use the “talk test” to gauge your exercise intensity. “If you can string together six to eight words or chat briefly or sing, you’re in your aerobic zone.” But if you find yourself gasping for air, lower the intensity. If you can say several phrases with one breath, you may not be working out hard enough.
Ways to Stay Motivated
Wear a pedometer. Bit by bit, boost your daily steps. “Wear a pedometer for a week to see what days you have the most number of steps. Then try to repeat the activities of that day and add another 500 steps the following week. Keep it up until you reach 10,000 steps a day.
Keep a walking journal. A journal serves as a motivator by allowing you to see your progress
Get a walking partner. A walking buddy provides accountability. Neither wants to let the other person down.
Find support online. Programs such as the American Heart Association’s StartWalkingNow
Make It More Challenging
If you’re already fit, simply kick up the intensity for a more challenging workout. Here’s how:
Speed up. The easiest way to up the ante is to simply walk faster, You may even want to try race walking, which uses more muscles and, therefore, burns more calories. Brisk walking at four miles an hour burns 334 calories, and strolling at three miles per hour burns 221 calories, according to the American College of Sports Medicine
Head for the hills. Walking up hills also increases intensity as does lifting the incline on a treadmill.
Change the surface. Consider changing your walking surface for a greater challenge. Walking on trails and maneuvering around rocks increases muscular demand. Snow, sand — even grass — makes walking more of a challenge.
Keep safety in mind when you walk outdoors. Follow these basic rules:
- Walk with a buddy whenever possible.
- Carry your name, address, and a friend or relative’s phone number in your shoe or tied to a lace.
- Wear a medical bracelet if you have diabetes, an allergy, or other condition.
- Carry a cell phone and let a friend or relative know your walking routes.
- Avoid deserted or unlit streets, especially after dark.
- Do not use headsets that prevent you from hearing traffic; and walk against oncoming traffic.
- Wear reflective material or carry a flashlight so others can see you.
- Carry a whistle, noisemaker, or pepper spray in case of an emergency.
- Make walking fun and you’ll be more likely to stick with it.