Walk your way to good health

Gyms can lend themselves to excuses—no time, no energy, no money for petrol. But when you can’t find the motivation, or moments… blow off the gym and take a walk. Even within the most extreme time constraints, walking does not have to be done all at once. Five minutes here and there can really add up. This is an exercise that fits easily into those precious spare moments of your day. 

"Lifestyle" walking is one of the few forms of exercise that you slip seamlessly into your everyday life. It's the type of casual, low-intensity walking style you do when you walk around the mall, to the train station and around the supermarket aisles. Lifestyle walking is such a simple activity that you may think it's not worth doing. After all, how much benefit can you get from what is essentially a glorified stroll? A lot, as it turns out.

When you lifestyle walk, you strengthen and tone your calves, thighs, hips, abdominals and lower back. In recent years, major research studies have found that walking as little as two kilometres a day at a comfortable pace reduces your risk of heart disease, increases stamina and improves overall health. It has also been shown to reduce stress and fatigue as well as improve self-esteem and mood.

The key to successful lifestyle walking is consistency rather than intensity. We recommend that you walk 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week. Aim to burn at least 500 calories through walking each week to bolster your health and make noticeable improvements in stamina. (You burn about 100 calories a mile.) If your goal is weight loss, walk enough to burn 1,500 calories a week; for most of us that's an accumulated mileage of more than 25 kilometres a week.

Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to do all your walking in one shot. You can "collect" walks throughout the day and add them all up. Most experts think that several mini-walks are just as beneficial as one long walk. Here are several ways you can sneak some lifestyle walking into your typical day:

  • Walk once in the morning, once at lunchtime and once after dinner, for a total of three 10- to 20-minute walks.
  • Walk 18 holes around the golf course. For extra calorie burn and exercise, pull your manual golf cart. You'll walk an average of two accumulated hours during a round of golf.
  • Walk to the corner store or a friend's house and back for a total of two 20- to 30-minute walks.
  • Window-shop at the mall or your neighborhood shopping district, or do your errands on foot to accumulate an hour or more of walking time.
  • Walk to work, to the train or to the bus stop. If necessary, get off the train or bus a stop or two early so that you can accumulate two to four 10- to 15-minute walks daily.
  • Schedule an appointment in your daily planner for a 30- to 60-minute walk on the treadmill or outdoors.

I recommend that you take a twofold strategy to lifestyle walks: Go for a formal lifestyle walk three to six days a week and squeeze as much "informal" lifestyle walking into your everyday life as you can. But feel free to hit your totals any way you can.