Baby steps to walking more

What is the one physical activity most people have the ability to do, but don’t do nearly enough? The answer is walking. Our daily lives continue to become more sedentary. Think about a typical day for many: drive to work, sit at a desk all day, drive home, have dinner, sit on the sofa and then walk a few feet to bed. It is so easy for the average American to get very little physical activity in his or her daily life.

At the same time, we are seeing rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease skyrocketing in the United States. What if making one simple change could decrease your risk of developing diabetes or heart disease, and that same change could help you get started on a journey to lose weight or to maintain a healthy weight? That one simple change is to focus on walking more.

One of my favorite tools to suggest that people use to increase their daily physical activity is the pedometer, a simple device that clips to your belt or your waistband and tracks your daily steps. There are a variety of pedometers available, from freebies that may work okay for a while but aren’t always completely reliable, to decent pedometers sold for $10 to $15 at discount stores, to a very reliable, scientific pedometer sold for $25 to $40 at the Wellness Center at Springbrook.

Research suggests walking 10,000 steps (approximately five miles) a day seems to be a magic number helping with weight loss and weight maintenance, and overall health improvement. Studies show people who wear pedometers and track their steps seem to walk more. But, if you’re not walking much now, 10,000 steps may be too ambitious of a goal at first. So, make it simple. Start by wearing a pedometer for a week, tracking your daily steps and seeing how many steps you take on an average day. Are you getting 2,000 to 3,000 steps per day? If so, that’s pretty close to what the average, sedentary American walks each day. A good first goal might be to aim for 4,000 steps. Then, when you find you’re reaching 4,000 steps per day, set your next goal for 5,000 steps and work your way to an eventual goal of 10,000 steps per day.

I’ve personally been wearing a pedometer almost every day for the past two years, and I love the added motivation it gives me to move more. When I leave work for the day, and I look at my pedometer to see I’ve only reached 4,000 steps or so, it is a real motivator to go for a walk outside, jump on the treadmill or take an aerobics class.

A few of my favorite ways to get in extra steps:

Take a walk with your spouse after dinner.

Visit a co-worker in an office down the hall rather than calling or e-mailing.

Park farther away at the grocery store.

Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Go to your favorite park to walk - pretty scenery makes walking more fun.

Take an aerobics class.

If weight loss and overall health improvement is your primary goal, while walking more is a great first step, for better results, make sure you work on eating an overall healthy balanced diet. For the best results, don’t forget to include strength training.

Angie Tillman is a registered dietitian and the director of the Weight Management Center at Blount Memorial Hospital.

© 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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