Walk It Off

By Kristen Castillo

December 12, 2016 4 min read

Hate running? Don't sweat it! Walking is an effective way to get and stay physically and mentally healthy.

Studies show that walking helps manage and fend off conditions ranging from high blood pressure and high cholesterol to diabetes. It can improve circulation and help you sleep. Plus it slows mental decline and can boost your mood.

It also produces less strain than running.

"Running can be very hard on your joints," says healthy lifestyle coach, blogger and podcaster Mandie Mutchie, an advocate of walking for physical and mental health. "Walking is much lower-impact, so it does not cause the same pounding on your joints," she says, noting that walking keeps your heart rate between 55 and 75 percent of your max, which is your fat-burning zone.

Mutchie recommends walking three to five hours a week, as well as "one sort of sprint workout," such as rowing or biking, every seven to 10 days.

She also suggests strength training three to five times per week.

*Healthy Habit

Build walking into your daily routine.

New York City lawyer Todd A. Spodek walks to and from court, meetings and offices around the city. He wears a Google Fit to track his walking. The steps add up fast.

"I have had a number of days in which I walked over 10 miles," he says, explaining that walking helps him clear his head and think through issues. An added bonus? "I also tend to make the majority of my calls while I am walking."

Len Saunders runs three days a week but says walking is more relaxing.

"I love walking as I get older, as it is much easier on the joints and muscles," says the author of "Keeping Kids Fit." "Set a goal of 10,000 steps each day."

Saunders uses a pedometer to track his steps, but many smartphones have built-in apps to measure steps.

*Mind and Body

Walking is a great workout, but often it's so much more than that.

"Walking has helped me cope, manage and heal," says Rick Lauber, author of "The Successful Caregiver's Guide."

A former co-caregiver for his aging parents (who had Parkinson's disease, leukemia and Alzheimer's disease), Lauber credits walking with helping him deal with the emotional, mental, physical and financial stress of the situation.

"Without a cure for those conditions, all I could do was helplessly watch while helping Mom and Dad remain comfortable and safe," he says. "I needed an outlet to deal with these mounting frustrations and turned to walking. Walking several times per week proved to be very effective, as it allowed me the opportunity to stretch my legs, clear my head, breathe in fresh air and do something for me."

Even after his parents' deaths, Lauber continues to walk. He recommends it as an enjoyable activity that doesn't require pricey equipment or advanced skills.

*Walking Wisdom

Before you hit the pavement, the sidewalk, the trail or the track, make sure you're ready for serious walking.

--Lace up. "Make sure you have great shoes that feel good and are appropriate for your foot shape and gait pattern," says Mutchie, explaining, "Minimalist or toe shoes are closest to natural for your feet."

--Start small. Get off to a steady start. Over time, you'll build distance, pace and time. "Even if you're starting out and can only go a short distance, just try to go a little further each time you go," says Mutchie.

--Stay safe. Walk in safe, well-lit areas that you know well. Make sure friends or family members know where you're going, too. Be careful not to wear headphones that block out the sound of oncoming traffic. You need to be alert about nearby vehicles, people and changes to your environment.

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