family walking
By Alice Henneman, MS, RDN and Linda Boeckner, PhD, RD

USDA guidelines for nutrition and physical activity suggest most adults receive health benefits if they are moderately active for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Walking is a simple, pleasurable and inexpensive way to be physically active. Seek opportunities to enjoy beautiful and interesting scenery on foot AND do something good for your health at the same time. This article includes Nebraska scenes of beautiful places to walk.

Moderate levels of physical activity can boost your energy levels, plus give you an overall sense of well-being. Regular physical activity has these direct physical benefits:

  • improves strength and endurance
  • builds stronger bones and muscle
  • assists in weight management
  • improves blood pressure

Beginning your walking program

To (pardon the pun!) start off on the right foot, here are a few simple tips to help you start a walking program.

(Photo: Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge, located in the Nebraska Panhandle, consists of 45,818 acres of rolling sandhills, the largest continuous dune area in America.)

Check your readiness. If you have not been physically active on a regular and consistent basis for more than a year, check with a medical care provider. Also, if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or experience dizziness or chest pain upon exertion talk with your medical provider before you begin a walking program.

Chimney RockGet the right equipment. Since walking is so easy, you don't need much to get started. During the summer, you will want to wear light, loose clothing that will allow you to cool down if you work up a sweat. During cooler weather, wear layers of clothing to keep yourself warm but not overheated.

The shoes you wear are the most important equipment for a walking program:

  • Your shoes should be flexible and give you enough room for your foot to expand while walking.
  • Flat sole with little difference in height from the toe to the heel of the shoe is best. Many folks find that a good running shoe also works well for walking and gives needed flexibility and support.
  • Replace shoes about every six months if you are a daily walker.
  • Wear clean, comfortable socks inside your shoes to prevent blisters.
  • Hats and sunglasses are important for protecting your eyes and skin. Wear sun screen when it is appropriate.

(Photo: Chimney Rock -- near Scottsbluff, NE -- was one of the most famous landmarks on the Oregon Trail.)

Check your walking style and stride.

  • Walk tall and straight without arching your back or leaning forward:
  • Keep your eyes focused ahead of you and hold that smile!!
  • You can swing your arms at about a 90 degree angle as you walk but keep your elbows close into your body. You don't need to pump your arms wildly into the air.
  • Use a heel to toe walking step so that you hit the ground first with your heel and push off with your toe.
  • Watch the length of stride. Smaller steps are better than striding out too far. Your stride should be comfortable to you and not overtire your legs and muscles.

Tips for planned walks

Here are some tips to help you enjoy and stay with a walking program:

Camp Clarke Bridge
  • Begin with a slow pace for about 5 minutes before you move into the walking pace that you will continue through the rest of the walk. This will allow your muscles to warm up. At the end of your walking time, use a 5 minute slow down to cool yourself down. Also, stretch your leg muscles as a part of a cool down period.
  • Purchase a walking meter (pedometer) to count the number of steps or measure the distance that you have gone. Walking meters have the advantage of giving you a tool that will measure all of your steps in a day. Clip it on for the entire day and you will record the steps that you get in your normal daily activities as well as your planned walks.
  • If you don't wish to use a walking meter, you can go on planned walks according to the clock. Gradually aim for an accumulation of at least 30 minutes of planned walking each day. If you are already close to 30 minutes each day, it's okay to increase your time beyond 30 minutes.
  • Consider making walking arrangements with a friend or a walking group.
  • Scout your community for walking paths and other safe places to walk.
  • Walk at the time of the day that is most convenient for you. Walking time can be in the morning, mid-day or evening. For some, it will be easier to break up your walking time throughout the day and that is okay, too.
  • Think through how you will handle walking when the weather is bad. Check if a nearby school, church, mall or other facility will allow you to walk there during bad weather.
  • If walking doesn't work out for you on one day, pick it up again the next day. Keep it fun rather than a chore.

(Photo: Camp Clarke Bridge connected the gold mines of the Black Hills to the railroad in Sidney, Nebraska.)

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