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Literally speaking, an awful lot of folks are making great strides nowadays and with good reason. Simple as it is to do, walking has a significant pay­off. Brisk walking is considered to be moderate-intensity activity, and “if done on a regular basis, it’s known to provide health benefits, in terms of prevention of chronic diseases and weight management,” says Patty Freedson, Ph.D., University of Massachusetts Amherst professor and chair of kinesiology and member of the American College of Sports Medicine. “There also is evidence that moderate physi­cal activity has beneficial effects on mood and reduces depression.”

The American Council on Exercise (ACE) reports plenty of data supporting the notion that we all should keep on stepping. For example, an eight-year study of 13,000 people found that those who walked 30 minutes a day had a significantly lower risk of premature death than those who rarely exercised. In addition, research has shown that regular walking can decrease total and intra-abdominal fat and reduces the risk of developing diabetes, breast cancer, arthritis and osteoporosis. According to ACE and other medical experts, a regular walking program can also lower blood pressure, improve your cholesterol profile, increase energy and stamina, reduce stress, improve sleep and build muscle tone.

For more info on taking steps in the right direction and tips on maximizing local workouts, read on.

First Steps

A pedometer is a great little device for tracking and inspiring your progress, but a pair of comfortable, well-fitting shoes with sturdy heel support is the only requisite gear for starting a walking regimen, experts say.

Before you hit the road, though, you may need to check with your doctor. “If you’re a male over 45 or a female over 55 or you haven’t been active for a long time, it’s probably a good idea to check with a physician first—certainly if you have any kind of chronic disease like high blood pressure, diabetes or heart dis­ease,” advises Freedson. When you do get started, begin at a pace and distance that feels comfortable, gradually building up speed and/or duration. For a sample walking program, safety tips and more, download “Walking: A Step in the Right Direction,”  from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. 

Visit the American Heart Association’s walking club web page for more information about starting or joining a walking club.