Ever since I took up running in my early teens, I have always considered myself a runner. Never a particularly fast runner, mind you, but an every-other-day distance runner. I made a habit out of running all through high school and college, and even ran a marathon (my one and only) as I finished out my first year in medical school. And then life’s demands really set in. With the realities of a husband, three kids, and a demanding job, I found myself figuratively running all the time, but with so little to spare that even finding the time to finish watching a movie on a 5-day rental was a challenge, and my running went by the wayside altogether.
One of the disadvantages of having been a former distance runner is that it took me many years before I was able to convince myself that anything short of a five-mile run counted as real exercise. Concerningly, I’ve found that people contemplating exercise for the first time share this impression, making it a misperception that stands to seriously get in the way of getting up and getting active. And it’s clear that getting up and getting active is something we all could afford to do more of.
In fact, a 2012 Lancet article reported that “physical inactivity is a global pandemic, with far-reaching health, economic, environmental, and social consequences.” The New York Times recently reported that Americans are “thousands of steps behind” – walking barely half (5117) of the 10,000 steps per day typically recommended by the health community compared to countries like Japan (coming in at over 7000) and both Australia and Switzerland (both close to 10,000 per day). According to America’s health rankings, Nebraskans are not faring so well either, with nearly a quarter of us over eighteen reportedly doing no physical activity or exercise other than in the course of our regular job. With physical education time and funding being dropped from elementary, middle and high schools alike, we’re all but setting our children up to follow in our physical inactivity footsteps.
So what kind of far-reaching effects does all this physical inactivity have? According to epidemiologist Min Lee it “has an impact on health comparable that of smoking” – a troubling sentiment shared by a friend of mine, Nilofer Merchant, in her recent TED talk, in which she asserted that sitting has become the smoking of our generation.
If sitting and our tendency towards physical inactivity really is the new smoking, then the good news is that there is a powerful, easy to administer, and entirely free antidote. That antidote is walking. With the lowest dropout rate of just about any physical activity, it’s high time we all commit to doing more of it. To that end, I wanted to share some of the many convenient and motivating ways you can add more steps to your family’s day.
- Walk and talk. Just like regular exercise, finding time to connect with friends is clearly an important aspect of well-being too. Instead of getting together for food and/or drinks, why not plan to take a walk and talk instead? If your days are filled with meetings, consider which might be just as fruitful if conducted while walking rather than sitting.
- Make walking a club sport. Many area elementary schools have adopted walking clubs, in which children can come to school early and walk a mile or more with the peers, teachers, and/or parents. If your child’s elementary school doesn’t have one, consider volunteering to help get one off the ground!
- Walk where you’re going. While October 9th has been officially recognized as International Walk to School Day, consider having your child walk to/from school every And while you’re at it, consider other daily activities where you might be able to walk rather than drive – the grocery store? The post office? Take a look around your neighborhood and you’re sure to find places within walking distance. Or simply add an evening walk around the block to your daily routine.
- Measure your progress. Pedometers and other fitness tracking devices abound, and for good reason. For many of us, simply being able to see how many steps we have (or haven’t) taken in a day is enough to motivate us to get up and moving.
- Watch while you’re walking. Can’t find time to walk? Consider taking a look at your TV viewing schedule and commit yourself to walking on a treadmill while you watch your favorite weekly show(s).
- Walk the walk. Remember that as parents, we have a responsibility to set a good example for our children – which includes both talking the talk and walking the walk. After all, if we get it right, they are very likely to follow in our 10,000-plus steps-per-day footsteps!
Originally posted on Omaha World Herald’s Live Well Nebraska