You don’t have to climb Mount Everest to get fit; you can do it right in your own neighborhood. Recent research shows that getting 30 minutes a day of any type of moderate physical activity can be as powerful as the best diabetes medications available. Exercise boosts not only your energy and your mood, but also your cells’ sensitivity to insulin, which allows your cells to soak up more glucose and lowers blood sugar levels. Get moving with these simple strategies.
1. Walk Fido every day. Dog owners walk more than people without dogs. Not surprisingly, they also tend to be healthier, with less body fat, according to a new study from the University of California, San Diego. But not every pooch “parent” takes advantage of these exercise opportunities. And those who don’t walk their four-legged friends don’t get the health perks. If you don’t own a dog, offer to take the neighbor’s dog for a walk, or join your neighbor in his or her daily jaunt.
2. Volunteer at a local animal shelter to walk a pooch several times a week. Most shelters will let you participate with a little bit of training. Have a favorite breed? You can find rescue centers for labs, retrievers, even Schnoodles (Schnauzer/poodle mixes) by asking at your local humane society, animal shelter, or veterinary hospital. You can also try searching online by typing in the name of the breed, “rescue center,” and your town.
3. Sweep and weed your sidewalk once a week. Making a habit of keeping a tidy path in front of your house will make it more inviting to others, give you a chance to say hello to your fellow citizens while you’re weeding — and burn off 100 calories in just 20 minutes of vigorous work.
4. Stroll to your neighborhood mailbox. Instead of leaving outgoing mail in your home mailbox, walk your bill, magazine subscription, or birthday card to the government mailbox a few blocks away, or even to the post office if it’s within a mile or so from your home. Not only will you benefit from the blood-sugar-stabilizing activity, your check will be safer than it would be sitting in front of your house.
5. Return misdelivered mail to its rightful home on foot. It happens to everyone: You get a letter that should have gone to the house one or two blocks over. Instead of marking it “wrong address” and clipping it to your mailbox, look at the post as an opportunity to get a few minutes of activity, some fresh air, and a chance to meet a neighbor. 6. Take your newspaper on a daily walk. When you step outside for your morning paper, take the opportunity to go around your block one time. The fresh morning air will help wake you up — sans caffeine — and you’ll start your day off right with a few extra steps. You’ll knock off five minutes of exercise from your 30-minutes-a-day goal before you even sit down to have breakfast.
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7. Take advantage of your sidewalk. It’s there, it’s free, and all you need is a good pair of walking shoes to use it. Begin gradually, with a 15- to 20-minute walk. Start strolling slowly for about three to five minutes, then pick up your pace for 10 minutes and cool down for another three to five minutes. Each week, add two to three minutes to the faster portion of your walk. Within a few weeks, you’ll be up to walking briskly for 30 minutes most days a week.
8. Try out a pair of walking poles. You’ll burn far more calories on your neighborhood walks with these poles, which you use like a cross-country skier. Called fitness trekking or Nordic walking, walking with these poles can boost your calorie burn 20 to 50 percent over regular strolling because the poles recruit the muscles in your upper body. Poles can also be helpful if you need a little extra stability or want to take some impact off of your legs. Follow the instructions that come with the poles. You might also be able to find a lesson through your local health club, community center, or YMCA. You can order poles and get instructional tips at www.exerstrider.com or www.nordicwalking.com.
9. Say your ABCs out loud. When you’re out walking for exercise, your pace shouldn’t be so tough that you’re gasping for air, or so easy that you can babble nonstop to your exercise buddy without breaking a sweat. If you’re by yourself, recite the alphabet. If it’s no problem, pick up your pace. If you start huffing by the letter F, slow down.
10. Rate your exercise intensity. Another good rule of thumb: On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being running as fast as you can, and 1 being sitting on the couch, you want to aim for about a 6 or 7. At that intensity, you should be breathing harder than normal but still able to carry on a simple conversation.
11. Clip on a pedometer in the morning. The little gadget will keep track of how many steps you take that day — and subtly encourage you to take even more. Try to take 500 additional steps each week, aiming - ultimately for as many as 10,000 steps a day. In case you’re curious, 1,000 steps equal one-half mile.
12. Keep a step log. It takes approximately six months for a new behavior to become habit. To help you lock in your walking habit, write down your steps after you take off your pedometer every night. Recording your progress helps you stay focused.
13. Crummy weather? Take a mall walk. Check your mall to see if they offer a mall-walking program or early morning hours for walkers. If it doesn’t, you can still get there first thing in the morning — hours before the teens get out of bed — do a few laps, and then treat yourself to a skim milk latte. Invite a friend along, and agree to do one quick lap for some harder exercise, and then one moderate lap for a little bit of window shopping — then repeat, one fast lap/one relaxed, on the upper level.
14. Promote your own mall-walking program. If your mall doesn’t have a walking program, consider talking to the mall management. Some malls don’t want to be responsible for possible injuries, and if this is the case, suggest that the staff develop a consent form that walkers must sign before joining the program. If you have friends, neighbors, and coworkers who want to mall walk, ask them to call the public relations department of the mall to express their interest. You may even want to volunteer your time to get the program under way.