In addition to bringing awareness to women’s health issues, May is also National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. With winter finally behind us and more opportunities becoming available thanks to a greater number of COVID-19 vaccinations, May is the perfect time to break out of the winter doldrums with a new fitness routine. As a bonus, taking part in outdoor activities provides not only physical benefits; it also improves mental health by reducing anxiety and depression and improving self-esteem and cognitive function. It’s like hitting the reset button!
Walking is one of the best exercises you can do. It requires no special training or equipment beyond a good pair of shoes, and you can do it pretty much anywhere. If you’re lucky enough to live near or are a short driving distance from a beach, a park or a trail, you have the added feature of natural beauty, which offers further mental health benefits. Alternately, a walk around your own neighborhood can be a great start or end the day (or both!). Or, if you’re back to work and can fit in a 30-minute midday walk, you can meet the recommended guidelines for weekly exercise during your lunch hour.
Brisk walking offers the greatest benefits, but if this is the first time you’re exercising in a while, start slowly with a comfortable pace to build stamina — even 10 minutes at a time is beneficial! It’s also helpful to plan a route or pick a target destination, such as park or friend’s house, so that you have a clear objective and distance goal. This also increases the likelihood of achieving significant weight loss.
Make your daily walk about you and enjoy yourself while you’re out there! It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the idea that we “must exercise” every day to the point that we automatically resist the idea before even trying it. Don’t fall into that negative mindset! Focus instead on the many benefits from walking. In addition to burning calories and losing body fat, you build stamina and endurance, improve heart health, strengthen bones, increase muscle power, tone legs and extend life! All of this also helps prevent, manage or even reverse type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. That’s a pretty good return on your investment!
If you’re feeling social or are more comfortable with a partner, call a friend to join you. Or, pop in your earbuds, cue up your favorite music and add a little bounce to your step as you walk away calories. Several health organizations agree that 150 minutes of moderate intensity over the course of a week is best, which averages about 22 minutes per day. If that seems daunting, break it down however it works for you. For example, a short 10-minute walk before or after meals each day would meet the guidelines as you build endurance, or you can listen to seven songs or a chapter or an audiobook to measure time.
You’ve got this! Weight loss is a journey and every step you take reduces health risks and improves psychological well-being. Every day offers a new beginning and each day begins with a first step.