Walking the walk: Beginning a fitness plan for life one step at a time - The Explorer: Active Living

Walking the walk: Beginning a fitness plan for life one step at a time

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Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 4:00 am

On March 23, residents of Oro Valley and the surrounding community will have an opportunity to exercise their mind, body and spirit in the 10th anniversary of the Arizona Distance Classic. A variety of events are on the docket from a half-marathon for the most experienced runners, to the Splendido Super Mile all-ages walk. While not everyone is marathon-ready, there’s much to be said for the benefits of walking - no matter what the pace. And, beginning a walking fitness plan is inexpensive, simple and almost anyone can do it.

“Walking is good for your brain, as well as your body,” says Splendido Life Enrichment Manager and Honorary Race Director, Beth Ernst. “Through simple exercise, such as walking, your body begins to release proteins and chemicals which can help lower stress levels and have positive benefits on memory.”  

When you begin to exercise, your brain recognizes exercise as stress, and begins to release chemicals in order to protect your body from that “stress.” Pressure builds in the heart, which then causes the body to release a protein called Brain-Derived Neurtotrophic Factor, or BDNF.

BDNF not only protects, but also begins to repair the memory neurons in the brain, which essentially “resets” the brain, thus creating the sense of ease, and providing a sense of mental clarity after exercise.

Another benefit of walking is the release of endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are chemicals which minimize any physical discomfort, blocking the feeling of pain and causing a natural, but potentially addictive (in a good way) “feel good” rush.

Walking can also help reduce risk of stroke. In fact, research recently presented at the American Stroke Association International Stroke Conference 2014 found that moderate exercise, such as brisk walking also helps offset the increased risk of stroke with postmenopausal women.

Incorporating a simple walk into daily activities can help keep older adults physically strong and agile, which means real benefits, such as maintaining mobility and independence.

New York Times health columnist Gretchen Reynolds put it best, “One of the biggest misconceptions is that exercise has to be hard. That exercise means marathon running or riding your bike for three hours, or doing something really strenuous. But humans were born to stroll.”

In fact, most of the benefits of exercise are gained at the outset of the activity. “You get prolonged life, reduced disease risk – all of those things come in the first 20 minutes of being active,” said Reynolds.

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer in the United States. But by exercising for as little as 30 minutes each day you can reduce your risk.  However, like so many things in life that will benefit us in the long-run, getting started is the hard part. Which is why the American Heart Association has started an initiative to get more people walking, called www.startwalkingnow.org.

On the site, visitors can get helpful hints about how to get started, find local walking maps, walking groups, or ideas about starting your own walking group.  The site also provides links to an Activity Tracker and the ability to create a Personalized Walking Plan, developed in collaboration with the American Council on Exercise.  

A walking club or partner can make all the difference in success by helping you stay motivated and improving accountability. “Find a friend or neighbor who shares your interest in getting healthy, and get moving,” suggests Ernst. “Whether you’re indoors on a treadmill, at a shopping mall when the weather’s too hot, or outdoors and enjoying the fresh air, sunshine and scenery, walking is something everyone can do, at their own pace.”

“Getting started can be as easy as getting motivated, and what better place to do that than right here in your own hometown. If people aren’t quite ready to make the leap and walk the Splendido Super Mile this year, then they can come be a part of the action by volunteering or just cheering on the participants,” said Ernst.

The important thing to remember is, it’s never too late to begin exercising. “As with any exercise plan, talking to your doctor is a great place to start. But almost anyone can walk, and nearly everyone should!” said Ernst.

For more information about participating or volunteering for the March 23, Arizona Distance Classic, visit www.arizonadistanceclassic.com.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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