More and more Americans are walking for exercise. In fact, the number of adults walking for transportation, fun and exercise increased by 6% in the last five years. In total, 60% of adults are walking for aerobic activity. And there’s a great reason why they should be. The CDC reports that adults need at least 2 ½ hours of aerobic activity every week. This aerobic activity can be something as simple as a brisk walk. Learn the benefits of walking for exercise and the best ways to get started.

3 Great Benefits of Walking

1. Improve your balance. According to Harvard Medical School, one of the main benefits to taking a brisk walk is improving your balance and coordination. Create a walking plan to get you in the habit of adding a brisk stroll to your exercise routine. You’ll develop lower-body strength, one of the key ways to ensure you maintain your balance at any age. Start small and build your way up.

2. Lift your spirits. Living a healthy lifestyle includes finding ways to improve your mental health. According to research by Dr. Michael C. Miller, even something as simple as regular walks can increase blood flow to your brain and improve your mental acuity and mood significantly. In fact, a 2005 study found that for individuals with major depressive disorder, those who walked for 30 minutes had more positive feelings of well-being and vigor compared to those who rested quietly for 30 minutes. Why not take the dog for an extra walk during the day? It’ll make him just as happy as it’ll make you.

3. Maintain your weight. According to Mayo Clinic, you could burn 150 calories by taking a brisk 30-minute walk – just enough to burn off the calories from the cookies you had earlier. So if you’re trying to keep your weight down, don’t forget to incorporate a walk into your daily routine. You can’t get the benefits of walking for exercise if you aren’t actually going for a walk regularly.

5 Tips on Walking for Exercise

The safer and more comfortable you are, the more enjoyable and beneficial your walking routine will become. So before you throw on your walking shoes and head out for a stroll around the block, take a look at these five tips on walking for exercise.

1. Choose an app. Most people prefer walking outside as opposed to on a treadmill. But there is one distinct advantage to a treadmill and that is its ability to measure and quantify your workout. Treadmills can track your distance, pace, elevation and calories burned. Fortunately, there are GPS apps you can download on your smart phone that will provide comparable data.

MapMyWalk is a popular app for walkers, runners and hikers. It can track your distance, speed and the route that you take. This can be incredibly helpful in the event that you get lost, as it allows you to trace your steps back. You can also save your routes and race against your previous walks to try to improve your completion times. Additionally, you can upload the data from MapMyWalk to other apps such as FitBit and Jawbone.

Even if you don’t plan to use an app, you should still always bring your mobile phone with you when walking. You can use it to call for help in an emergency, check the weather or refer to GPS if you get lost. Be sure to get to a safe place, away from traffic before using your phone.

2. Dress for the occasion. Choose your clothing and footwear wisely. Comfort and safety are likely the two most important features to look for when dressing for a fitness walk. Of course it’s also important that you’re happy with the way you look. If you’re walking through your neighborhood and wearing a pair of goofy shoes and an ugly windbreaker that make you feel awkward, you’re probably not going to enjoy your walk. You may even be more inclined to skip your walks if you’re not happy with your clothing.

Your walking shoe selection should depend on whether you’re walking on streets or off-road trails. If you’re walking on the streets you want a well cushioned shoe that is lighter and has a lower ankle. Asics Gel Quickwalk 3 is an example of a popular shoe for street walking. If you’re walking on off-road trails, the Merrell Chameleon Wrap Salm Gore-Tex XCR is an example of a shoe that offers durable soles and a supportive structure. In addition to a good pair of shoes, consider a reflective rain jacket. Proviz Relfect 360 Jacket looks like a normal, water resistant windbreaker. But it’s made entirely out of a reflective material. This way, vehicles can easily spot you when walking at night or consider using a reflective vest.

3. Check the weather and sunset. Of course, the apparel you wear for your walk will also be dependent on the weather and time of day. Check the hourly forecast before going on your walk. This is especially important in the wintertime, as temperatures can drop dramatically within short time periods. Walking during a snowstorm can be incredibly dangerous due to low visibility and dangerously slippery conditions. It’s also important that you check the time of sunset. You can use the MapMyWalk app to help determine how long you will be on your walk. You can then choose a start time that gets you back safely before dark. Be sure to wear your reflective jacket and bring a flashlight in case you’ll be walking after or near sunset.

4. Be aware of traffic. One of the biggest dangers for walkers is moving vehicles. The following tips can help you stay safe and avoid accidents.

  • Cross streets at crosswalks and intersections and abide by pedestrian traffic lights.
  • Always wear a reflective jacket and carry a flashlight when walking at night.
  • Stay on the sidewalk if possible.
  • If there is no sidewalk, stay close to the curb and always walk facing traffic.
  • Don’t fidget with your smart phone or device while walking. If you need to check your GPS, walking app or make a phone call, find a safe place off the road to do so.

5. Prepare for trails. Walking on trails requires some of the same safety protocols as walking on streets. There are, however, additional safety tips that you should follow. Here’s a quick guide to trail walking safety:

  • Stay to the right when walking on trails. The right side of any lane has become the universally accepted “traveling” lane in The United States. This will allow cyclists and runners to easily pass you.
  • Carry ID to help in the event you are involved with an accident or medical emergency.
  • Don’t listen to headphones while trekking as these will make you less aware of nearby hazards and animal life.
  • Stay connected by letting people know when and where you will be walking. If possible, bring a friend.

Walking can be a fun and easy way to improve your health. It’s also a great way to get fresh air, see the sights of an area and a fun partner or group activity. Use your common sense and our helpful safety tips and get out there – alone or with others, it’s an enjoyable and relaxing, low-intensity way to exercise.

Read Next: 6 Tips to Help You Flex Your Workout Muscle

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