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Is walking enough to improve health?


Is walking enough to improve health?

Can you really walk your way to better health?
The short answer? Yes. Research shows regular, brisk walking can help you lead a healthier, happier life by improving your endurance, reducing your risk for chronic disease, increasing your energy levels, strengthening immune function and enhancing mental health, among other benefits.
“Walking not only has physical benefits, but it has emotional benefits, too,” says Tidelands Health family medicine physician Dr. Michelle McCauley, who practices at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Andrews. “Many people are aware that walking can help you physically by improving cardiovascular fitness, endurance and toned and strengthened muscles but are less aware that it also has positive effects on your mood.”
That’s because walking triggers the release of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin.
“These hormones help improve your mood and decrease anxiety,” Dr. McCauley says.

How much should you walk?

Just how much walking do you need to experience benefits? According to recent studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, briskly walking 2,000-10,000 steps each day can be meaningful exercise. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends brisk walking for 150 minutes each week or 30 minutes each workday.

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“I often tell my patients that small changes add up over time,” Dr. McCauley adds. “Small amounts of progress are still progress.”
If you aren’t already physically active, it’s a good idea to start with achievable goals such walking for 30 minutes one to two times per week before increasing to three to five times per week. Be sure to consult with a qualified health care professional before beginning a new exercise routine.
“Walking less than 150 minutes per week still has physical and mental benefits,” Dr. McCauley says. “You will slowly build momentum if you stick with it.”

How to get the biggest benefits

To maximize the health benefits that walking provides, consider these tips and guidelines:
Prep the body
Stretch your muscles before you walk and start with a five-minute stroll to warm up before kicking it into a brisk walk for ideally about 30 minutes.
Work up a sweat
Walk to the point where breathing becomes heavier and you begin to perspire. Brisk walking will get the heart pumping and increase blood flow to all parts of the body.
Create a challenge
To increase the intensity of your walk, consider traveling along a route that includes inclines and downhill slopes. You can also carry hand weights or add ankle weights.
Wear good shoes and use proper posture
Be sure to wear supportive shoes, which can help prevent injury. Form is also important.
“Poor posture can lead to neck and back pain, as well as getting fatigued more quickly,” Dr. McCauley points out.
Walk with your head held high, looking forward as opposed to the ground. Shoulders should be held back to avoid slouching. Bend your elbows to allow a natural swing of the arms and allow your feet to roll from heel to toe on the ground. Abdominal muscles should be gently tightened and engaged.
Track your progress
With so many fitness apps available, it’s easy to download one to track your progress, which can be a big motivator and source of inspiration. These apps not only track how long or far you walk but they can also track progress cumulatively.
“If you struggle making time for exercise, you can set a reminder on your phone or enlist a walking partner to hold you accountable,” Dr. McCauley suggests. “Don’t give up. Start slow and build on it.”

Dr. Michelle McCauley is a family medicine physician at Tidelands Health Family Medicine at Andrews. She is accepting new patients.

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