An adult laces up their shoes and gets ready for a run.
Lace up your shoes and hit the walking trail to achieve your health and wellness goals. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Why be active?

I love the concept of health as the act of deliberate well-being. This means we are purposefully working every day to be well.

To be healthy, it is important to have a goal, a plan, and make choices every day in order to meet our goals.

What makes it difficult to be active, what activity actually helps us be healthy, and just how active do we have to be?

What does being healthy mean?

We each have our own definition of what healthy means.

Some of us want to be able to garden and be social, some want to be able to run a 5K, and some want to hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

The first step is to be clear about your goal, whatever it may be. I recommend picking a time in the future—your own college graduation, a family trip, retirement, a special vacation, or a family event like a wedding. Consider how you want to feel on that day. How active will you be? How fit? How healthy?

Compare that vision to how you are now. Are you as active and healthy now as you want to be at that future event?

If yes, great! Let us make sure you can keep up your good work and stay healthy. Avoid injury and be prepared to stick to your activity regimen despite busy weeks or family illness.

But, if you’re like many of us, you are not doing now what you want to do in the future. You don’t feel the way you want to feel.

So, how can we get you there? We all have reasons it is hard to be more active, but there is always a way.

I had a patient say, “By next year when I see you for my physical, I want to be hot!”

She thought about what that meant to her and about how to get there. She started walking, then running, and lost 20 pounds. That next year she felt like a new person, and had made her goal.

One simple and cheap way to get more active is to walk.

The American Heart Association encourages Americans to get out and enjoy 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of strenuous exercise. That would be approximately 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five times per week. It can be broken up into 10-minute walks, or put together into longer periods of time.

Walking can prevent weight gain, lower cholesterol, reduce risk of diabetes, increase energy, lower blood pressure, strengthen bone and reduce the risk of fractures. And, when you are at a healthy weight, walking can reduce hot flashes in menopausal women.

How do you start a walking program?

Start slow so you don’t overdo it and injure yourself.

It can help to find a walking partner, but music can be a great partner as well.

All you need are supportive shoes, comfortable clothes and a safe place to walk. If your neighborhood is not safe, or the shoulders are narrow, consider driving to a nice park or bike path. Start with short distances and times to work up slowly.

Stretching your muscles is an important part of any exercise, including walking.

Start with a calf stretch by standing on the edge of a step on the ball of your feet and dropping your heels.

Stretch your hamstrings by putting one heel on a stair one or two up from ground level. Suck in your belly, lean forward to your comfort level, and hold it. Change legs and do it again.

Remember posture, belly held in and shoulders back. Stretching before can be good to get ready, and after is to recover and be ready for next time.

Keep it up!

If you find you are not able to keep the walking goals you have made, what are your barriers? Name them!

Is it time management? What keeps getting in the way? Your kids’ sports practices, class, or meetings?

Could you take a walk during practice or get in exercise on the way home before you sit down?

Just pack a snack and stop to walk on your way home.

Are you too tired? Not drinking enough water or being out of shape can make us feel tired and weak, even if we are rested.

Is your family not supportive? Sometimes it takes getting the whole family involved to make it happen. Ask your family and friends for support and encouragement.

We women are good at finding ways to get things done for others. Now it is time to figure out how to get something done for yourself.