A Short Walk Toward Better Health in Harlem

April 24, 2014

woman-walking-fitnessBy William Gillespie, M.D.

After a long winter, many of us look forward to enjoying the spring weather. We can return to outdoor activities like gardening, sports, or simply enjoying the many parks, museums and social activities that New York City has to offer.

Use that time outside to walk toward better health by incorporating more walking into your everyday activities. Living healthy is not always about major exercise programs. For many of us, it’s about the accumulation of everything we do.

Your body was not designed to sit idle for 23 hours each day and be active for one hour at the gym. Leading an active lifestyle, in which you are in motion more than you are sedentary, is the best way to stay fit. A good guideline for an active lifestyle is to make sure you walk 10,000 steps per day, which is equal about five miles. It’s a goal many people can reach. Use a pedometer – which can cost as little as $10 or less by downloading an app to your phone – to keep track of your progress. Wear one every day for a week to establish a baseline of your movement and build from there.

You may be surprised at how much, or how little, walking you do on a normal day. If you have an active job, such as a teacher or a restaurant worker, you may take close to 10,000 steps at work. If you work behind a desk all day, you probably have to make a concerted effort to consistently walk those five miles.

If you are not physically fit or are not part of a regular fitness program, start slow. You can begin by taking three 10-minute walks every day and build up to 30 consecutive minutes of walking. This can significantly improve your health, including lowering blood pressure and blood sugar, and building stronger muscles and bones. Eventually, you should be able to walk at a pace fast enough that your breathing rate is increased, but does not leave you feeling out of breath.  If you have heart disease or other conditions that limit your physical ability, talk with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

Walking has many advantages over other forms of exercise. For one, it costs nothing and can easily be incorporated into your everyday activities. Other tips to keep you active and engaged in your walking program include:

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  • Walk to a co-worker’s desk instead of emailing or calling them
  • Start your walking program with a friend or your spouse to motivate each other
  • Spend half your lunch hour walking outside
  • Choose the stairs over an elevator or escalator whenever possible
  • Stop using the subway stop closest to your home or office and walk the extra        blocks

Once you get going, you may find making a series of small steps isn’t so hard. This approach may take longer, but it could also motivate you to make some big changes to your overall health in the future.

Any walking ideas you can add to this list?

William Gillespie, M.D., is chief medical officer of EmblemHealth and President and CEO of AdvantageCare Physicians.

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