Rec Management Magazine, April 2009
Which form of exercise is easily accessible, free and can boast the lowest dropout rate of any form of exercise? Walking, and the American Heart Association has teamed up with the American Council on Exercise to offer a program that will help your organization get more people on their feet and moving.
Studies have shown that Americans are increasingly overweight, and American jobs have become more sedentary. What's more, employees are spending 164 more hours per year at those sedentary jobs than they did 20 years ago.
"With over 66 percent of Americans considered overweight or obese, and nearly 70 percent of the population not engaging in regular light to moderate physical activity five times a week or vigorous activity three or more times per week, we realized there was a dire need to incorporate more walking into people's daily routines," said Timothy Gardner, M.D., AHA president. "Just a few extra steps each day is a simple and easy way to take an active role in maintaining a significantly healthier life."
So on April 8, the AHA celebrated National Start! Walking Day, getting people from all walks of life to head out for a 30-minute trek on walker-friendly paths in cities across the country. But the fun doesn't stop there.
The AHA has collaborated with the American Council on Exercise (ACE), America's leading fitness authority, to develop walking plans for people of various ability levels. The free, downloadable plans and a list of walking paths in various cities are available at StartWalkingNow.org.
In addition to its easy accessibility and low dropout rates, walking provides many health benefits.
"As you know, walking is beneficial to health," said ACE's Julia Valentour, a programs coordinator who helped develop the walking programs. She added that it reduces the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, as well as combating high blood pressure and lowering the risk for breast cancer and premature death. "The benefits go on and on," Valentour said. "It's low-risk and easy to do. It's great to get people out, and now that it's spring, it's the perfect time to get people started on a walking program."
Valentour said there are seven programs altogether, each designed for varying levels of fitness and different goals, such as weight loss or health. "There are also two made for people who are really busy who can't seem to fit it in, the time-crunched," she added.
The workouts are "great for improving aerobic fitness, even for beginners," Valentour said. "When people are encouraged to get out and walk, they'll often stick to their usual route and pace. To improve fitness, the concept of overload needs to be incorporated." The Start! programs, by incorporating the overload principle through increased time, frequency and effort, encourage walkers to build their fitness levels over time.
"We also encourage alternate activity days, where they can rake leaves, do yoga, go for a bike ride or do other activities."
Find materials and articles that support the program online at StartWalkingNow.org, and get your community involved.