What Can Walking Do For Me?
The popularity of walking as a fitness activity has grown by leaps and bounds. Low-risk and easy to start, walking has proven its health benefits in numerous studies. An eight-year study of 13,000 people found that those who walked 30 minutes a day had a significantly lower risk of premature death than those who rarely exercised. In addition, research has shown that regular walking can decrease total and intra-abdominal fat and reduce your risk of developing diabetes or breast cancer.
A regular walking program can also:
- Improve your cholesterol profile
- Lower blood pressure
- Increase your energy and stamina
- Boost "couch potato" bone strength
- Prevent weight gain
Experts at the CDC and National Institute of Health recommend that every American adult engage in 30 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity just about every day of the week. One way to meet this standard is to walk 2 miles briskly (about 4 miles/hr). If this is too fast, choose a more comfortable pace. Guidelines released in 2008 from U.S. Health and Human Services recommend that aerobic activity be performed in episodes of at least 10 minutes and that adults perform a total of two and a half hours of moderate intensity activity each week. Walking is a great way to integrate activity into your life.
How to Set a SMART Goal
Many people want to lose weight and get in shape. Sound familiar? The problem with this type of goal is that it doesn’t contain any specific information. You haven’t stated how much weight you want to lose or a date by which it must be accomplished. A SMART goal contains detailed information and a deadline. People have found that SMART goals help them create an effective plan, stay on track, stay motivated and be more successful.
An example of a SMART goal might be: "I want to lose 15 lbs in three months so that I can look good for my high school reunion.” You’ll want to break this big goal down into the smaller goals that help you get there, focusing on activities and behaviors rather than absolute physical changes. For example, “To do this, I will walk during lunch at least 3-5 days/week and do at least one longer walk on the weekends. I will also reduce my daily calorie intake by 300 calories by eliminating one frou frou coffee beverage each day and substituting a piece of fruit for my afternoon candy bar."
Now let’s look at the components in the acronym "SMART" so you’ll know how to create goals that will help you get results:
"S" = Specific. In this example, losing 15 pounds is a specific goal rather than just losing weight or getting in shape, which is a vague desire.
"M" = Measureable. A 15 lb weight loss is measurable on a scale. Body composition can also be measured using skinfold calipers or waist circumference with a tape measure.
"A" = Attainable. Safe weight loss can be done at the rate of 1-2 lbs per week. In three months, it is reasonable to lose 15 lbs if a person stays motivated.
"R" = Relevant. Looking good for a high school reunion (or wedding, etc.) is a relevant and personal goal that can motivate a person to look better, feel better, and have more energy--thus making the experience more enjoyable and rewarding. Preparing for a meaningful short-term event can get you on track for a lifestyle of healthier choices. For example, eating an additional piece of fruit each day can be the first step towards consuming more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Once the event has passed, you’ll need to find other important reasons to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
"T" = Time Bound. There is an ending date when you will know that you have reached the goal. At that point, you can choose to set another goal or to just maintain your current weight.
If You Ink It, You Think It
Write your goals down and post them in a prominent place, for example, on your computer, refrigerator or closet door. One way to stay on track is to keep a journal. Writing down the time, duration and speed of your walks keeps you accountable and helps you monitor progress. When your walking program is in full swing, you can look back through your early journal entries and see how far you’ve come. You can also keep a record of the foods and beverages you’ve consumed during the day to make sure you’re getting enough water and meeting your nutritional goals. By reaching your daily goals, you’re on your way to achieving your long-term goal.