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Why Walking Works

No Special Skills, Equipment Needed–and it’s EASY!

For the last five years, Duncan Frazer and a group of friends have gathered weekly to walk along the boardwalk near North Beach. Their time together is a way to get some exercise while enjoying each other’s company. The friends, all retired, have all had some health issues over the years, but recognize the importance of staying active – both physically and mentally.

They walk for about 45 minutes and then go for breakfast. “We’re in the fourth quarter,” said Frazer, “and it feels like a full-time job keeping all these body parts moving,” he said with laughter.

Then, in March, as a result of advice on social distancing due to COVID-19, the group began walking separately.

With the additional stresses that come with isolation during this pandemic, keeping to an exercise schedule that includes walking – while following guidelines suggested by state and local health officials – is even more important and beneficial. And for Frazer, in addition to the health benefits of walking, the time on the boardwalk has given him time to listen to audiobooks. “I have completed nine since April,” he said.

Frazer and his friends are on to something that is backed up by scientific research: Not only does walking reduce physical health risk factors associated with diabetes, heart disease and cancer, but walking outdoors with friends provides psychological and emotional health benefits as well.

Getting Started. Walking doesn’t require special skills, a gym membership or expensive equipment. It is an easy activity to start and maintain—and see gradual improvement. If you have current health concerns, and walking hasn’t been a part of your daily routine, check with your doctor to make sure that walking is a good activity for you.

Start Small. If you’re not already active you should start slowly, with short distances and gradually add a little more time and intensity each week. Try a short walk at different times of the day to find a timeframe for walking that will be easy to maintain.

Find a Partner. It’s more fun when someone else is counting on you to show up. Having a partner may help you continue to be active.

Pick a Goal. An example of a goal could be to walk a mile every day for a month or to be active every weekday for 30 minutes. Be specific and realistic. Always discuss your activity goals with your healthcare provider.

Track Your Progress. There are many free phone apps that allow you to track time, distance, pace and calories burned while walking. Some apps let you create or join a walking group so that even when you can’t walk together, you and your friends and family can challenge and encourage each other from afar.

Make It a Habit. The more regularly you schedule an activity, the quicker it will become a habit. Think of ways to link activity to daily life. For example, you could schedule walking with a co-worker after lunch or plan to walk a circuit around the neighborhood as part of picking up the newspaper or mail every day.

Mix It Up. Try Nordic walking using poles like those used in cross-country skiing which provides a better total body workout than regular walking because it incorporates the arms and upper body.

Dress the Part. If you’re walking near dawn or at dusk, wear light colors or reflective gear so drivers can see you. Protect yourself from the sun by applying sunscreen and wearing a hat. Make sure your shoes are well-fitting and appropriate for the surface you are walking on—bring a walking aid like a walking stick if you are unsure of walking on uneven surfaces.

Occupy Your Brain. Try listening to music to boost your walking routine by helping you to step up the pace to keep up with the beat—just be careful not to set the volume so loud that you can’t hear what’s going on around you. Download a thrilling audiobook or podcast series that you will listen to only while walking.

Spend Time in Nature. Walking outside, even at minimal levels greatly benefits an individual’s mental and physical health as well as academic outcomes and community connections, according to the Outdoor Foundation. Calvert County is home to many public parks with nature trails. Walk along the Chesapeake Bay shoreline, through a dense forest or along the tidal areas of the Patuxent River.

Start a Walking Group. Walking groups provide great opportunities to socialize and motivate people to be more physically active. Join or start your own walking club. The American Heart Association has resources on how to organize and promote a group in your neighborhood. Find some friends who will help you get it off the ground and then watch it grow.

Celebrate Your Success. Sign up for a fun run/walk sponsored by a local non-profit—such as the CalvertHealth Breast Cancer 5K--it’s a great way to connect with the community and meet new people. At 3.1 miles, these events provide a goal to work toward and a sense of accomplishment when completed. During the month of September, CHMC will be giving tips on how to train for a 5K. Visit CalvertHealthFoundation.org for more information and to sign up.
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