In honor of Valentine's Day and National Heart Month, I'm teaming up with my friend Tyler Norris of Kaiser Permanente (KP) and the Every Body Walk! Collaborative to talk about one of the best things you can do for your heart: walking!
Walking is also one of the easiest and cheapest things you can do for your heart. But unfortunately many of us don't do nearly enough of it.
Last year, KP joined a host of other organizations led by the American College of Sports Medicine, Nike and the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education to compile an eye-opening report of just how dire the situation is.
According to the report, Americans are 32 percent less active today than we were two generations ago. We drive to work, sit behind a desk all day, drive home and sit in front of the television all night. If current trends continue, then by the end of this decade, many Americans will exert only slightly more energy than if they slept 24 hours a day.
This is a major problem because physical inactivity is a major risk factor for all premature deaths. It contributes significantly to cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, cancer -- even depression and Alzheimer's.
Moreover, it's very expensive for our country. In 2008 alone, the U.S. incurred $147 billion in costs associated with physical inactivity. That's twice the size of the federal budget for the Department of Education!
Fortunately, we can all take steps to help -- literally.
You don't need to run a marathon. You don't need a gym membership or fancy equipment. You just need to walk 30 minutes a day. (For kids, the goal is 60 minutes a day.) That's all it takes to drastically reduce your risk of heart disease -- and many of the other health issues named above.
Moreover, those 30 minutes don't even need to be consecutive. Two 15-minute walks will do. As will three 10-minute walks.
So here are some tips to get more walking into your day:
- Walk 15 minutes with your kids before breakfast and after dinner. Or walk with your kids to and from school. It's especially important to teach them the importance of physical activity.
- Walk your dog for 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at night. If you don't have a dog, maybe join a neighbor who does. It's a great way to build community.
- Walk to and from work if you can. If you live too far away for that, use transit or park a mile from work and walk to and from there.
- Walk 15 minutes to lunch and 15 minutes back. Get your colleagues at work to join you and enjoy some fresh air outside of the office.
- Instead of gathering around a conference table for boring PowerPoint presentations, stimulate a more flowing discussion with walking meetings a la Socrates or The West Wing.
- Make Valentine's Day every day by taking evening strolls with your partner. Bonus points if you hold hands.
At first, these things might seem like significant life adjustments for you. But we encourage you to make a commitment by taking the Every Body Walk! Pledge. If you give it a shot, we're sure you'll see that walking 30 minutes really isn't that difficult. We're also sure you'll see that it can really be quite fun!