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Walk your way to health this year

Although there are great benefits to walking outdoors each day, winters can present a barrier to your good intentions.

Looking for the magic elixir that will reduce your risk of developing a chronic disease and will also elevate your sense of well-being? Look no further than your own two legs. A simple daily walk will help you reduce stress, elevate your mood and lower your risks for heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes.

Doing at least 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity on top of your usual activity, on most days of the week, will reduce your risk for chronic disease. The 30 minutes of exercise can be accomplished in shorter increments, such as 10 minutes three times each day.

Many people also report that a regular program of physical activity leads to reduced stress and an elevated mood. Some studies suggest that increased physical activity can reduce the symptoms of mild anxiety or depression. During these cold, dark months, a program of physical activity such as a regular daily walk can lead to a happier, more productive winter.

Walking is one of the simplest, least expensive and most effective ways to incorporate more physical activity into your daily routine. Comfortable sturdy shoes with a non-slip tread and weather-appropriate clothing is all you need to begin a walking program. Give yourself the gift of 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes during lunch or in the afternoon, and 10 minutes in the evening; or, choose one 30-minute time during the day to get out for a walk. Walk at a brisk but comfortable pace. You should be able to carry on a conversation without becoming breathless.

Although there are great benefits to walking outdoors each day, winters can present a barrier to your good intentions. To reduce the risk of injury, particularly from snow and ice, investigate indoor options for walking on a flat, level surface.

Is there a shopping mall nearby? Does your local school offer times during the day for community members to walk? Will your local grocery store allow you to walk the aisles?

Take a few minutes each day, scout out several routes for safety and variety, and get walking. You’ll feel better for it.

– Betsy Johnson is a health and nutrition educator with University of Minnesota Extension.

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