By Nancy Kershaw, Family & Community Health and 4-H Youth Development Faculty
Oregon State University Extension Service/Tillamook County
Walking for me is a way to decompress and my thinking time. I walk everyday with my two Shelties, JP & Lefty. We are regular walkers at Happy Camp in Netarts. JP, Lefty and I walk an average of 3-5 miles every day. When time and the tide permits, we walk from Schooner Beach in Netarts to Oceanside (5 miles round trip). For shorter walks we start at Happy Camp and walk towards Oceanside. And on days the tide is high and the wind is blowing, we walk the neighborhoods of Netarts. For a change of scenery, we walk at Kilchis Point Reserve. The walk from the parking area to the bay is 2 miles roundtrip through the forest.
One of the reasons for walking is to keep your heart healthy. A personal anecdote that demonstrates this – this past year, both dogs had their annual check-ups by the veterinarian (both with different vets). Both vets commented on their strong, slow heartbeat, a sign of good physical fitness often associated with runners. Then I went for a colonoscopy and while the nurse was prepping me for the procedure she asked if I was a runner. I asked why and she commented that I had a runner’s heartbeat, slow and strong. I replied that I’m an avid walker.
According to the Walk with Ease program manual, walking offers many benefits for your body and spirit. Besides being inexpensive, convenient and fun, walking can help to:
- Strengthen the heart and lungs
- Nourish joints
- Build bones
- Fight osteoporosis
- Burn calories
- Control weight
- Reduce stress
- Improve mood
- Boost energy
Walking is safer and puts less stress on the body than most other forms of aerobic exercise – the kind that builds stamina and boosts cardiovascular fitness. It is an especially good exercise choice for people who are older or less active.
The current guidelines recommend at least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise five times a week – that’s only 150 minutes or 2 ½ hours of physical activity out of an entire week. Here’s a tip – if walking 30 minutes at a time is too much for you or you can’t find the time you could walk: 15 minutes twice a day, or even 10 minutes three times a day. Low or moderate intensity exertion allows you to speak comfortable, with huffing and puffing or being out of breath. You should be able to carry on a conversation. If you can’t carry on a conversation because you are short of breath or breathing too heavily, slow down.
Need some incentive to walk? My dogs are my incentive to walk, they look at me longingly and nudge me with their noses if they haven’t had their walk. Studies show that dog owners tend to be more physically active than non-dog owners. If you don’t have a dog, how about walking with your neighbor, friend or kids?
Studies also show that setting goals and writing them down (making a contract) can be helpful. When settting goals be specific:
- State when you will walk and be specific. For example will you walk before breakfast, during your lunch break or immediately after work?
- State how often you will walk. At first aim for three times a week, if you do more that’s a bonus.
- Select a reward to celebrate a job well done. Name your reward on your contract.
- Refer to the contract every day. Post the contract where you’ll see it every day, such as on the fridge. The contract will help you stay focused and on track with your walking program.
Other tips for starting and maintaining a walking program:
- Research also shows that keeping records of your daily activity helps you make and maintain changes in your overall physical activity.
- Self-tests can be a great motivator to stick with a program because you can see how the program is making a difference. Self-tests are easy – measure the amount of time you’re able to walk, or the distance you’re able to walk, or take a physical measurement such as your heart rate. Do the self-test at the beginning of your program and then at regular intervals as you become more active.
If weather is a challenge, find a place out of the weather to walk – Y members can use the track above the gym, others might try walking at Fred Meyer, or consider walking through the Walk with Ease program in the fairgrounds on Monday, Wednesday & Friday, 10:30-11:30 am for walking (dress in layers since it is often colder in the exhibit hall than outside and enter through the Fair office). For more information about the YMCA call 503-842-YMCA. Call the OSU Extension Office, 503-842-3433, for more information about the Walk with Ease program.