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Exercising is as easy as right foot, left foot, right foot ...

Simply walking helps with hypertension, osteoporosis, cholesterol, diabetes, stress, depression and anxiety

Simply walking helps with hypertension, osteoporosis, cholesterol, diabetes, stress, depression and anxiety

April 24, 2008|By MARIE GILBERT

Lucille Jardinier has taken great strides to improve her health.

She walks.

Today, she might put in 20 minutes on her treadmill. Tomorrow, she'll take a trek around the perimeter of her 5-acre property. And if the weather is uncooperative, there are always the halls at Robinwood Medical Center.

The important thing, she said, is to keep moving.

As a retired nurse, the 61-year-old Boonsboro resident said she knows it's not good to lead a sedentary lifestyle.

That's why she thinks walking is the perfect exercise.

"It's free, almost anyone can do it and the rewards are wonderful," she said. "I have more energy, I sleep better and I feel good about myself."

Jardinier is among a growing number of people, including older Americans, who have become walking enthusiasts.

"It's very important for older adults to engage in some sort of moderate activity," said Angie Davis, a physical therapy assistant with Total Rehab Care. "And walking is a great choice. It's easy, low-impact and you can set your own goals."

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But, most importantly, she said, it has a multitude of health benefits.

It has a positive effect on hypertension, osteoporosis, cholesterol and diabetes. It can improve sleep, lower stress and help prevent depression and anxiety. It also strengthens muscles and aids in flexibility, which can help prevent falls, she said.

Another benefit? Combined with a healthy diet, walking can be a key to weight control.

According to the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, regular exercise is a must for older adults if they want to maintain independence.

A recent study by the center showed that the loss of strength and endurance - keys to maintaining an independent lifestyle - are really due to inactivity.

Those physical concerns, the study says, can be helped by fitting a simple walk into your daily activities.

As with any exercise program, Davis said you should speak with your doctor before putting on those walking shoes.

If your doctor agrees that walking is safe for you, Davis offered some suggestions.

Be sure to start your walk with a warm-up, she said. It will improve your performance and help prevent muscle cramps and soreness. To warm up, walk at your regular pace - what Davis calls a "Sunday walk" - for about 3 to 5 minutes. Then increase your pace to get your heart pumping.

If you're short of breath or feel any pain, "back up a little," Davis said. "Listen to your body."

During the last few minutes of your walk, go into a cool-down period, slowing your pace to a normal gait.

Davis said walking for about 10 minutes is a good starting point for beginners, then gradually work your way up to 30, even 60 minutes.

If possible, try to walk at least three times a week for 20 minutes, she said.

And if you're in good condition, challenge yourself. As you build stamina, try those slopes or hills, she said. If walking indoors, go up and down stairs. Swing your arms. "You want to get that heart pumping. But progress as you feel comfortable."

Don't forget to carry a water bottle during your walks.

"You've got to keep fluids in the body," Davis said. "If you sweat it out, you've got to put it back. You don't want to become dehydrated, which can cause you to become lightheaded and dizzy or even pass out."

What you wear on your feet is also important to your walking program, she said.

"Wear shoes with laces or Velcro that have backs to them and good support. You don't want to risk falls or turned ankles," she said.

Dress appropriately. If you're walking indoors, she said, you don't want too many layers that cause overheating. Select clothing that is loose-fitting and comfortable.

Within the next few weeks, walkers at Robinwood Medical Center will be able to participate in a walking program being organized by Total Rehab Care.

People will be given a paper that maps out the distances around the medical center. They will be able to set goals, tally distances - all at their own pace, said Davis.

There is no cost, she said. Maps will soon be available at Total Rehab Care, Suite 201, as well as other locations at the Robinwood campus.

"There are so many people who walk here. I think this will be a fun program," she said.

Jardinier said she would recommend walking to anyone looking for a good exercise program.

Years before she retired, she said, she and her husband would walk three times a week for 45 minutes, starting at 5:30 a.m.

"Regardless of the temperature, eight months out of the year, we were walking," she said. "I never felt so toned."

Now that she is living in the country, and enjoying retirement, she hopes to do even more walking.

"I love being outside," she said. "But I have lots of alternatives. That's the nice thing about walking."

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