From the applause we get after our first baby steps to the
pride we take in remaining active in our senior years –
we instinctively know that walking is a natural movement that brings years of pleasure. While our modern lifestyle has moved us away from functional walking to and from our destinations, walking remains a valid exercise choice. It’s a low impact workout, can be done alone or in social groups of any size, requires only a pair of good shoes, and can be done almost anywhere. On top of all that, it’s a habit that can be set at a young age and kept for a lifetime.
SET THE PATTERN ONE
STEP AT A TIME
At every phase of development, your children are imprinted with the example you set. Even if you work out infrequently, you can help your kids become more active by adding a walking routine to your family’s schedule. It’s a small time investment that will grow more valuable as they develop good habits for an active adult life.
Regular walking has immense benefits for school-age children. Two studies, in 2003 and 2005, found that walking to school is associated with higher overall physical activity throughout the day. And, many teachers report that kids who walk or ride their bikes to school are more alert and ready to learn than those who arrive in a vehicle.
Of course, we all know that youths and adults who are physically active have better weight and blood pressure control, improved bone, muscle and joint health, a reduced risk of diabetes and a more positive outlook on life.
WALK THIS WAY
There are other benefits of encouraging your family to walk too:
- When you walk together through the neighborhood you’ll notice things you often miss when driving. These journeys instill a sense of security in younger children as they consistently see familiar places, people and animals, plus notice the changes the seasons bring.
- Get kids to walk together to school and they’ll have more time for social engagement with each other. Place older kids in a responsible leadership role during these daily trips and they’ll hone those skills too.
- While walking, either with adults or with their peers, children learn about freedom and independence. They will understand the consequences of making certain decisions on the route they take and the stops they make along the way.
- Pre-teens and teens may find an independent walk is a great way to clear their emotional mind and boost their self-esteem.
ONE SMALL STEP
Make incremental changes together for long-term results.
- If you’re jumping in the car for a short ride of less than a mile, consider walking instead. A leisurely one-mile walk takes about 20 minutes, and you won’t have to look for parking.
- Use public transportation more often. On weekends, for example, take the bus to the movies, the mall, or to dinner. It may not be as direct or reliable as your car, but it’s a viable alternative that encourages you to walk more to and from the stops as you discover more about your community.
- Instead of waiting outside for the carpool to pick them up, encourage kids to walk (or walk them) to the driver’s house if possible. Most carpools are based on proximity, so you can use that to your advantage.
Walking is a gift you can unwrap for your children from the day they take their first step. Rediscover it yourself and reap the same rewards for a healthier future together.
STEP IT UP
As your independent streak grows wider every day, there’s a simple way to exert your sense of autonomy, exercise your body, clear your head, and learn a thing or two. And it’s right under your nose. Just put one foot in front of the other and walk.
Sure, you know it’s smart to be physically active. It leads to better weight and blood pressure control, strengthens your bones, muscles and joints and reduces your risk of diabetes. Exercise can help you feel more positive about life, and give your self-esteem a boost. Walking is a prime example of how you can bridge “working out” with a “healthy lifestyle” activity that will improve your health and add enjoyment to your life for years.
Walking is also a great way to show off your independence. It can prove you are able to make good decisions (like choosing a safe route, or planning your walk so you arrive at your destination on time), and that you're mature enough to follow the rules of the road. You don't need a license to exercise this act of sovereignty- and it's free.
WALK, DON’T RIDE
Instead of asking your parents to drive you to meet friends or participate in an activity, talk to them about letting you walk there instead.
- Be sure you all agree on a safe walking route where traffic or other possible safety issues aren’t a concern. Ask your parents to walk the path with you if they’re leery, or have them drive the exact route with you before you take it on yourself.
- Practice safe walking when traveling beside busy roads. Always walk on a sidewalk, and if one isn’t available, walk facing oncoming traffic so you can be aware of what the cars are doing.
- Use a map app to explore your route before you leave home. The map will help you make smart decisions on how to avoid those busy roads, and will give you a great overview of your location and possible routes.
WALK FOR EXERCISE
If you’re someone who doesn’t get regular exercise, walking is a great first step toward getting more active.
- Get up and do it early. Sure you want to sleep in. But don’t. Studies show that mental fatigue at the end of the day makes exercise feel more difficult. So get to it when you’re mentally rested in the morning. Try leaving a bag of nuts and your tunes by your bed to remind you. And start with just 10 – 15 minutes then work up to more.
- Keep track of your distance. A study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Activities showed that people walked 15% more each day if they wore a pedometer and recorded their daily steps. Aim for 10,000 steps/day by adding 500 more a day until you get there.
- Let the music move you. Walk in time to music that’s more than 120 beats/minute and you’ll walk longer than if you have no music at all. Your mood will improve, you’ll be motivated to move and the music will distract you from feeling tired. You may even move more efficiently as you groove to the music. Load up on songs between 120 and 145 beats per minute. To calculate that, count the number or beats you hear in 15 seconds of a song and multiply that number by 4.
- Climb every mountain. Walking uphill burns more calories that walking on level ground and will tone your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings and calves. Start by adding hilly terrain to your walk twice a week, or climbing steps if you live in the flatlands.
- Set a realistic goal. If you have clear, obtainable objectives you’ll be more motivated. One goal might be to walk 500 more steps each day. Or to walk twice a week for a month. Then three times a week for the next month and so on.
- Change your routine. Every once in a while, walk a different path than your usual one, change your pace from slow to fast and back again, go just a few feet farther. Whatever it takes to spice it up and avoid getting into a boring rut.
- Plan a destination. Walk one mile to a beautiful pond, garden or fun store, then walk back. You’ll be amazed how fast that walk seems.
- Have fun. Bring friends. Bring the dog. Bring a comedy podcast. Whatever it takes, make it fun and it won’t feel like you’re focusing on the “work” part of your healthy walking workout.