Exercising, getting fit and staying fit doesn't require expensive equipment, gym memberships or personal trainers–and can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other, says Dr. Bob Sallis, a family physician and sports medicine expert, who advises his patients to walk at least 30 minutes a day.
"The data about the benefits of walking continues to be astounding," says Sallis, who practices family medicine at Kaiser Permanente Fontana Medical Center in Fontana, Calif.
In his 20 years as a practicing physician, Sallis has observed a correlation between a lack of exercise and chronic illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma and depression.
Walking, he says, is an appealing fitness routine because of its access, simplicity and effectiveness.
"You actually can draw a direct linear relationship between the number of minutes a person walks with the quality of their health. The more minutes you walk, the better your health," he says.
Walking strengthens the heart and lungs and, unlike prescribed medications that often are accompanied by unpleasant side effects, the byproducts of walking are virtually all positive.
"Walking makes you feel less stressed, less hostile," he says. "You feel better, you look better, and there's a host of evidence that indicates you'll live longer, too."
And it's free.
Sallis, 52, is chairman of Every Body Walk!, a national campaign launched in 2011 by Oakland, Calif.-based healthcare organization Kaiser Permanente. "Our goal is to encourage adults to do 150 minutes a week of moderate or greater exercise, such as walking," says Sallis, citing guidelines and recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine.
He offers these tips to get started:
Get comfortable. Invest in quality cotton socks, padded shoes and workout clothes. "If you feel like you look good and feel comfortable, you're more likely to get out there and walk," Sallis says.
Build up. If necessary, start walking in 10- or 15-minute increments and gradually challenge yourself. "We know that three 10-minute periods of exercise give us the same benefits as 30 minutes of solid exercise," he says. "So if you can't go 10 minutes without getting winded, then start by walking to the end of the driveway and back. The next time, try to walk a little further. Once you get going, it will become easier and easier, and you'll feel better and better." For stronger walkers, add resistance training to your workout by carrying 5- to 10-pound weights to strengthen your bones.
Stretch out. Finish walking with light stretching exercises for the shoulders, lower back and hips.
Set a goal. Try to walk 30 minutes a day-more if you can-so that by the end of the week, you've logged at least 150 minutes of walking.
- Find an exercise partner. "It helps when you're being held accountable," Sallis says. "On the days when you don't feel like exercising, you'll do it anyway when that person comes knocking at your door."
Adopt a dog. "People who own dogs are much more likely to take walks," he says. "We need to combine the need for dogs to find homes with the need for people to exercise regularly."
Identify an event. Sign up for a 5K, 10K or fun walk with a group of individuals or some of your friends so that you're training together with a goal in mind. "Sometimes having something on the calendar can provide that extra motivation," Sallis says.
Use a pedometer. "Keep in mind that 10,000 steps a day is typically the goal," he says. "A pedometer is a good way to measure just how much you're walking in the course of a day."
- Set your pace. The scientific way to measure the intensity of your workout is to measure your maximum heart rate, but Sallis recommends a less complicated approach called the sing-song test. "You should walk fast enough so that you're too winded to sing while you're walking, but not so fast that you can't talk. So if you're able to sing while you're walking, you're probably not pushing yourself enough," Sallis says.
Walking is truly the best medicine there is, according to Sallis, who says health care should begin with healthful lifestyle choices that include regular exercise and proper nutrition.
"We're spending too much money on pills and not paying enough attention to our behaviors," he says. "Walking is a good first step."