With Step It Up! the U.S. Surgeon General’s new call for Americans to get out and walk more, nobody can blame you for rolling your eyes, at least a little. Public-health officials have been begging us for decades to take the stairs, park at the far end of the lot or strap on pedometers to count our daily steps.
But there’s good reason to pay attention to this new initiative. It’s fueled by research about the risks of inactivity, and focuses on helping towns and communities increase their walkability.
There’s never been a better time to step it up. Walking more doesn't have to be tame or tedious, says Robert Sallis, M.D., co-director of the Sports Medicine Fellowship at Kaiser Permanente, tackling three big objections people have.
Obstacle: Walking Is a Big Yawn. “Walking is boring,” Sallis concedes, “if you’re on a track or a treadmill, or walking someplace that’s ugly. But if you’re somewhere beautiful, or with people you love, it isn’t.”
Walking Rx: Try to recapture the kidlike spark that made you love recess, adding fun and socializing to your walk whenever possible. “Why not do dinner and a walk with friends, instead of dinner and a movie? Instead of meeting for drinks, make it a short hike and drinks.” Adding an intention to your exercise can cut the boredom factor too.
Obstacle: Walking Isn’t Really Exercise Yes, it’s true that a walking routine won’t earn you the chiseled body of a triathlete.
Walking Rx: Consider instead the fitness gains, which are powerful. “One study found that brisk walking 12 minutes a day cut mortality by almost 10%. That’s a significant improvement with not a lot of investment.” And as evidence about the risks of sedentary occupations piles up, the idea of walking just a little each day becomes more meaningful.
Obstacle: It’s Too Hard To Squeeze In. We all have busy days; adding even a modest fitness routine can feel like a major challenge.
Walking Rx: Don’t do it all at once; instead, break your walking down. Sallis suggests finding a route that takes ten minutes to walk to work every day, even if that means a few laps around the building. Then at lunch, find someplace that’s a five-minute walk away. After work, repeat your morning route. “That’s 30 minutes a day, in three parts. Then you can take the weekend off.”The reverse is also true. “Our recommendations are for 150 minutes a week, so maybe that’s a two-and-a-half hour hike on the weekend.”
If you’re really time pressed, make an intensity swap: “Jogging offers a two-for-one benefit, so your body gets just as much out of a 15-minute run as it does from a 30-minute walk.”