Walking a healthy practice

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One of my coworkers recently shared a news story regarding a new study that suggests prolonged sedentary periods like sitting increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and death among people who exercise regularly.

This is a somewhat bold finding that even though you may exercise, prolonged periods of sitting could contribute to serious health issues. Many of us sit at a desk during work, so what's the answer to keep our bodies moving? Treadmills at your desk? Yes this has become popular, but let's face it, most of our employers are not going to install treadmills in a cubicle or office for us.

The next best thing to a treadmill is just regular, old-fashioned walking. If we took time out of each day to increase the amount of walking we do, we could keep our bodies moving a lot more. Standing is another option when it can be done comfortably, which is better than sitting. So let's take a look at walking and its benefits.

Walking is by far one of the simplest, easiest and most effective exercises you can do. Walking 20 minutes or more each day will improve your cardio respiratory fitness and your general health. Everyone from elite athletes to the elderly will benefit from walking. For athletes, walking can be a great warm-up or cool-down method, pre- or post-activity. For sedentary people just starting out, it is the safest way to get physical activity back into their lives.

For those of you thinking about getting started with walking, consider a walking regimen of just five minutes every hour or so daily. Take an easy pace and work up to a more energetic exercise regimen such as walking at least 10 minutes to 15 minutes while maintaining 2 or 3 mph, during lunch or after work. From there, you can adjust up to 20 minutes or more daily which is where you will get the most fitness from your walking.

If reducing inches and weight loss is your goal, you will find that after a few weeks, consistent walking will become a very effective tool to help burn those fat stores. Diet plus exercise is required if you want long-lasting results. It is important to remember that over time, lack of exercise will cause your muscles to lose tone and metabolic systems to slow down. Once you become sedentary and out of shape, it is very difficult to get back into an effective exercise program. Most people head back to the gym to intense exercise programs that are daunting and painful, so they only last a short time. Walking is a great re-entry program that can lead to truly great achievements by allowing you that ease factor that most need going from the couch to an active lifestyle.

There have been a number of studies that suggest that while exercises like biking and running are great for toning, endurance and burning calories, they force your body to burn carbohydrates first, which is a good thing, but perhaps not as effective for someone just getting back into fitness and wanting to jump start the fat burning and cardio process. However, walking allows your body to do that and it allows you to work out at a slow yet steady pace that works well for almost everyone.

The social aspect to walking is another great point. You can enlist friends and family or you can join a walking club. Whether you're walking the mall, in the park or on Tubbs Hill, down at the beach or around your neighborhood, walking can save your life by giving you back a healthy and fit lifestyle.

Not convinced? Here are 20 benefits to walking:

1. Improves efficiency of your cardio respiratory systems

2. Promotes weight loss and trims your waistline

3. Raises your metabolism and burns body fat

4. Helps lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the "bad" cholesterol)

5. Helps raise high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the "good" cholesterol)

6. Increases your energy levels

7. Helps reduce stress

8. Slows aging

9. Can help lower high blood pressure

10. Releases endorphins

11. Helps control and prevent diabetes

12. Helps promote restful sleep

13. Strengthens your bones and reduces bone density loss

14. Reduces stiffness in your joints due to inactivity or arthritis

15. Improves flexibility and posture

16. Promotes healthier skin due to increased circulation

17. Improves circulation which helps mental alertness and memory

18. Elevates mood

19. Gives you an opportunity to socialize actively with friends and family

20. Helps prevent and/or reduce depression.

Even if you hit the gym regularly, walking through your busy day can honestly be the steps in the right direction toward a healthy, happy and fit lifestyle change.

Judd Jones is a director for the Hagadone Corporation.

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