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way to wellness

Walk your way to wellness

Walk away from depression and stress. Walking is good for your heart and fitness, but can also lift your mood and help you sleep better. It's easy, safe, free and has no side effects. Medications can cause weight gain, but walking can help you get in shape, and being fit again will make you feel better about yourself. Walking actually energizes you. "The therapeutic benefits of walking are biological, psychological, and social," says Dr. Douglas Jowdy, assistant clinical professor, Department of Orthopedics, University of Colorado. "You drop weight, and increase your endurance and energy. It gives you a sense of mastery and confidence and provides structure in your life. It provides a 'psychological antibody,' boosting your emotional immune system. And, if you walk with a partner, you gain a social benefit." Exercise may actually improve the effectiveness of your medications. Talk to your doctor. When we're feeling down, the last thing we want to do is get out and get moving. But walking, Walking shoelike any exercise, puts your brain chemicals to work to make you feel better.

Here's what you need to know before you begin a walking routine:

  • Set reasonable goals, says Larry M. Leith, in Exercise Your Way To Better Mental Health, and compete only with yourself.
  • Don't try to do too much too quickly or you may not try again and you'll feel worse for quitting.
  • If you're over 50 or not in your best shape, check in with your doctor before you begin any exercise program.
  • Get motivated by tracking walking's effect on your mood, meds and body. Make a mood chart.

How to be a winning walker

  • Go for mild to moderate effort, especially if you're just starting out.
  • You'll know your pace is about right if you're feeling a little out of breath but can still talk.
  • You can walk in any low-heeled shoe but walking shoes are best. (Not running shoes.)
  • Perspiration doesn't evaporate well from cotton. Choose breathable synthetic clothing, including socks. Thick socks over thin ones can prevent blisters and keep feet dry.
  • Try to work up to at least four times a week for about 45 minutes. You should begin to notice you're feeling good right away, and you should notice some weight loss after several weeks.
  • Find a walking partner to improve your motivation and make your walks more enjoyable.
  • Walk with your chin up and look straight ahead. Relax your hands, bend your arms and let them swing gently. Rock your foot forward and push off with your toes, and land on your heels.
  • Carry identification, avoid deserted routes, and wear reflective clothing at night.
  • Park farther away at the mall; walk on your lunch break.
  • Take your music player when you go for a walk.
  • Vary your route to keep it interesting.
  • Walking a little faster is better than walking farther.
  • Congratulate yourself for taking control of your health.