Q:I am overweight and have been sedentary for years. I want to start an exercise program, but I’m self-conscious about going to a gym. Can I just start walking in my neighborhood? Is this good enough for serious exercise?
A:We encourage you to start moving; that is an important decision. Walking, placing one foot in front of the other and repeating the action, is proven to improve our well-being in many ways.
It is free and requires no doctor’s prescription, no special clothing or equipment, and no complex formula, so it is often underestimated as a risk-reducing and treatment modality. With the understandable exception of people with musculoskeletal challenges from illness or injury, walking is a deceptively easy and effective way to increase physical activity and fitness. Walking is ideal as a gentle start-up for sedentary individuals. It is, by far, the most “natural” way to move, burn calories and fat, and effectively manage your weight. It is customizable to your fitness and health goals as part of a comprehensive wellness regimen.
Walking to become physically healthier is not complex, but there are some basic safety issues that you should take into account. Please talk to your doctor before you start, get some suitable walking shoes, set some realistic goals with a friend or relative, and find an accessible, safe place to walk. Neighborhoods, shopping malls, parks, office corridors, riverbanks, boardwalks, seashores, outdoor trails, and even around the house (especially with stair climbing) are places people get their daily walking workouts. Because walking self-regulates its intensity and duration and has a low ground impact, for the prudent person it is quite safe.
After starting with what you can do, work your way up to comfortably walking for 30 minutes, 45 minutes, and then an hour—the recommended level for reducing the risk of diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, and Alzheimer’s disease. Regularly walking faster than customary while still being able to talk while walking puts us in the “training zone,” which develops and sustains physical fitness. A 160-pound person walking at that pace typically burns about 100 calories per mile.
Walking helps . . .
Walking is an all-season, repeatable, self-reinforcing, habit-forming activity. A walk through the park, around the lake, or along the seashore can be spiritually uplifting. You can pray and memorize scripture as you take a 10-minute stroll after meals.
Walking is relational: try a walking “date” or join a walking club.
Walking is practical: park some distance away from your destination, take the stairs, and walk even if you’re on the escalator. You’ll sleep better, think clearer, get slimmer, and live well longer. It’s serious!
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department. Zeno L. Charles-Marcel, a board-certified internist, is an associate director of Adventist Health Ministries at the General Conference.