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The word’s definitely out in the Bay Area: Walking is a smart—and fun—way to boost your health 

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.

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. (FYI: A good running shoe can do the trick.)

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, at http://win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/walking.htm.

Visit the American Heart Association’s Start! Walking Web site at www.startwalkingnow.org to create a personalized walking plan, log your walks or find a walking buddy.

Great Walks in San Francisco and Beyond
Looking for a terrific trek in the City? Here’s a list of some of San Francisco’s most engaging and eye-catching walks, from Avital Binshtock, former Sierra magazine lifestyle editor, and avid walker and jogger. 

  • The Bay front: From San Francisco’s Maritime National Historic Park (below Ghirardelli Square), take this paved path along “some of California’s most breathtaking miles,” ending at Fort Point. Sights along the way: Fort Mason, ships passing Angel and Alcatraz islands, the Marina, the Palace of Fine Arts, the Presidio and the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • The Golden Gate Bridge: On the walking path of this nearly two-mile span, get spectacular views from more than 200 feet above the water.
  • The Barbary Coast Trail (www.barbarycoasttrail.org): This stroll through San Francisco history is nearly four miles long and marked by bronze medallions in the sidewalk. The southern end begins at the Old U.S. Mint in the heart of downtown, then heads north, passing local-history museums and notable sites.
  • Land’s End: Take a great hike from Ocean Beach to Baker Beach on this stretch of coastline along the city’s northwest edge. (A shortcut: Start at the Cliff House, head to Sutro Heights Park and end at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor.)

For more details and tips on other great strolls in San Francisco, visit www.frommers.com/articles/5696.html or check Frommer’s 24 Great Walks in San Francisco by Eileen Keremitsis. For suggestions on more strenuous outings on unpaved trails outside San Francisco, check Jane Huber’s 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: San Francisco and www.bahiker.com.