Mansfield Living

Walking to improve your health

Doctors say walking has many health benefits.
Doctors say walking has many health benefits. Getty Images

Exercise doesn’t need to be complicated; walking is the most primal human movement and is a great way to get healthy. It is easy to do, costs very little to get started, and low tech.

“Walking has many health benefits,” says Michael McInnis, MD, internal medicine physician on the medical staff at Methodist Mansfield Medical Center. “It improves circulation, strengthens heart function, lowers stress, supports joint health, reduces the risk of osteoporosis, helps to improve sleep, and releases feel-good hormones.”

To help his patients achieve these benefits, Dr. McInnis recommends a weekly regimen of 2½ hours of moderate aerobic activity, 1¼ hours of vigorous activity, and two sessions of strength training. “The goal is to exercise for 30 minutes every day,” he says.

On days where it’s difficult to carve out a 30-minute break for exercise or if 30 minutes feels beyond your reach right now, Dr. McInnis recommends three 10-minute walks throughout the day instead.

“Studies have shown that three 10-minute sessions are just as effective as one 30-minute session,” he says. “Start slowly and build up to the goal of 30 minutes. Doing some type of exercise is always better than none at all.”

He offers these additional tips:

▪ Start with simple goals like walking 10 minutes during lunch. Once you’ve mastered that, add a little more time.

▪ Make walking enjoyable. If you find walking by yourself boring, have family members or friends join in and change the route for variety.

▪ Be mindful of the intensity level of the walk to know whether you are pushing too hard or not hard enough. “At a light-intensity level, a person should be able to sing. At a moderate-intensity level, a person can carry on a conversation comfortably. At a vigorous-intensity level, it becomes difficult to talk.”

Before embarking on any fitness program, Dr. McInnis recommends consulting with your doctor to ensure you’re healthy enough to exercise and investing in good footwear.

While walking is a natural movement, he offers these suggestions for proper form:

▪ Keep your head up and look forward, not down at your feet

▪ Relax your neck, shoulders, and back, and keep your back straight without being stiff

▪ Swing your arms freely with a slight bend at the elbows

▪ Tighten your stomach muscles

▪ Walk smoothly and naturally, rolling from heel to toe

▪ Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.

Before starting the walk, warm up with some gentle stretching. Afterward, cool down with a slow walk followed by more stretching.

“When walking outdoors, be aware of your surroundings and vary your route and time,” Dr. McInnis cautions.

He also recommends wearing brightly colored clothing and reflectors when it is dark to ensure that you’re visible to motorists; watching out for trip hazards like sidewalks that are cracked, have holes, and are uneven; and avoiding low-hanging branches. When temperatures climb, take along water to avoid dehydration.

Keeping track of time rather than distance is of greater benefit, Dr. McInnis says. There are several apps that can help. Most turn your phone into a GPS tracker to measure distance, time, calories, and steps taken. A few popular apps are Map My Walk, MotionX-GPS, Walkmeter by Abvio, and Noom Coach: Health & Weight or download a free pedometer at www.bidmc.org/YourHealth/The-Walking-Club/Free-Pedometer-App.aspx.

Fitness bands are increasingly popular, measuring distance, heart rate, calories, steps, and sleep time. Popular models include Moov Now, Samsung Gear Fit2, Garmin Vívosmart HR+, Garmin VivoFit 3, TomTom Spark 3, Fitbit Charge 2, Fitbit Blaze, Fitbit Surge, UP3 by Jawbone, and Huawei Fit.

Take advantage of the summer months and get moving outdoors. Chances are you’ll be so distracted by the sights and sounds of Mother Nature that you won’t even think about how long you’ve walked.

If you need a primary care physician, call today at 877-637-4297 or visit www.MethodistHealth

System.org/FindAPhysician.

Texas law prohibits hospitals from practicing medicine. The physicians on the Methodist Health System medical staff are independent practitioners who are not employees or agents of Methodist Health System or Methodist Mansfield Medical Center.

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