Not fast enough. Not far enough. Not for me.
Thoughts like these stop us in our tracks before we even start being physically active. We think exercise is useless unless it’s strenuous and leaves us exhausted.
But one of the simplest types of physical activity — walking — is also one of the most beneficial. Just 30 minutes of brisk walking, at least five days a week, can lower your risks for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
“There’s a mistaken belief that you have to go out and run a marathon or else physical activity is not worthwhile,” said Timothy Church, M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., an American Heart Association volunteer and director of the Laboratory of Preventive Medicine at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La. “The fact is that the benefits begin the moment you get off the couch.”
Most of us can expect to cover 2 miles or more during 30 minutes of walking. If 30 minutes seems like too much, start with less and gradually work your way up.
“It’s not all or nothing,” Church said. “We recommend that people get at least 150 minutes of activity a week, but even a little is better than nothing.”
Fit it in
You have lots of opportunities to fit walking into your daily schedule, even if you don’t have time to go to a gym. If you drive to work, park at the farthest point of the parking lot and walk the difference. If you take the bus, get off one or two stops earlier than normal. Take a 10-minute walk during your lunch break and another during your coffee break. Fit in another 10 minutes after dinner.
If you’re regularly active, you’ll burn more calories, which helps you manage your weight and other cardiovascular risk factors. Plus, physically active people nearly always report better moods, less stress, more energy and a better outlook on life.
And remember, you don’t need a “no pain, no gain” mentality to benefit from physical activity.
“Don’t dwell on some preconceived notion you have about what physical activity is supposed to be like,” Church said. “Just keep moving and focus on how much you’re helping yourself.”
This content was last reviewed on 7/22/2011.