Hard to believe but true: A simple brisk walk around your neighborhood, a few times a week, can help you 1) lose weight, 2) reduce stress, 3) improve your mood, 4) boost your energy, 5) fight osteoporosis, 6) nourish your joints, 7) strengthen your heart and lungs, 8) prevent cancer, and 9) decrease pain associated with arthritis and other chronic conditions. All you have to do is put on a pair of sneakers and do this five-step walking plan, developed by the Arthritis Foundation, three to five days a week.
Step 1: Warm up (3 to 5 minutes)
Walk at a slow pace or simply march in place.
Step 2: Gently stretch (4 to 5 minutes)
Prevent pain and sore muscles with a few simple stretches after warming up. Experts recommend targeting calf muscles, iliotibial bands, quads, and hamstrings for 30 seconds each. As you stretch, be sure to spend equal amounts of time stretching the right and left sides.
Step 3: Walk (5 to 30 minutes or more)
Move as if you have somewhere to go, but don't overexert yourself. If you're huffing and puffing, your pace is too fast. Each week add 5 minutes to your walking time. Beginners should start by walking a total of 10 minutes (that's just 4 minutes of brisk walking sandwiched between 3-minute warm-up and cool-down strolls).
Step 4: Cool down (3 to 5 minutes)
Slow down to your initial speed in step 1. Don't skip this step — it's important to let your body downshift from high gear to the low gear of everyday movement. It prevents blood from pooling in your legs, which can cause light-headedness and fainting.
Step 5: Gently stretch again (8 to 9 minutes)
Repeat the stretches at right, but this time hold them for about 1 minute each. Don't bounce, and remember to breathe.
Originally published in the April 17, 2010, issue of Family Circle magazine.
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