Bipedal humans are designed to be in motion, and walking takes you step by step to better health, a sunnier outlook and a longer, fitter life. Leave the car in the garage, hit the city sidewalks or the trail and reduce your risk for stroke and heart attack, Type 2 diabetes and obesity as you lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels. Walking a set distance on a regular schedule boosts bone density, muscular endurance, strength and flexibility -- and could keep you moving into a ripe old age.
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Steps to a Longer Life
Walking your daily mileage or minutes works your glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, shins and foot muscles. But it can also ease back pain, lower mental stress and protect against dementia and depression while extending your longevity and your ability to live independently. Harvard Medical School reports that a meta-analysis of walking studies shows that walking 9 miles a week lowered the male premature death rate by 22 percent; 30 minutes a day decreased the chances of men developing coronary artery disease by 18 percent; and walking for three hours a week lowered women's risks for heart attacks, cardiac death and stroke by 34 to 35 percent.
The 10,000 Steps
Take 10,000 steps every day and you will meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Surgeon General's recommendation to log at least 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week. Ten thousand steps translates to roughly 5 miles. So get a pedometer and work up to a good walk -- you can do it in 10-minute segments. For an average stride, 2,000 steps is approximately 1 mile. That's about 12 city blocks for an urban walker, four times around the local quarter-mile track or 15 to 20 minutes for the average walker moving at a brisk clip. To increase your steps, walk to the store, take a stroll with a friend, work in the garden, park at the far end of the lot or get a dog.
Ambling will improve your fitness, but real results require putting a bit more into it. Pick up the pace to a brisk 90 to 110 steps per minute. Start slowly to warm up cold muscles, then stand tall with shoulders back, tighten your glutes and abs, pump your arms slightly and keep your stride short and quick, rolling from heel through toes. Breathe deeply and evenly with your head up. It helps to walk somewhere interesting or beautiful, and a trail away from traffic offers a quieter walk and cleaner air. A slow-down and a few stretches at the end of your walk will help you to get the most from your exercise session.
Stepping It Up
Step it up to take it off for weight-loss walking. Your distance and body weight determine how much you can lose by walking, but a faster pace burns more calories more quickly. Brisk walking will serve you better than a stroll when you want to take off the pounds. At 140 pounds, normal walking will burn about 95 calories per mile, Harvard Medical School says. For a 180-pound walker, the calorie cost per mile is 115. At 200 pounds, you'll chalk up as many as 125 calories a mile, so walk 5 miles, or 10,000 steps, and you've used up 625 calories -- nearly one-sixth of a 3,500-calorie pound. Pair your walks with a healthy diet, and you could walk off 1 to 2 pounds, the safest rate of weight loss, per week.