Walking: Do more of it in the New Year

Let’s say you’re not in the mood for a super ambitious New Year’s resolution this year, but in the spirit of self-betterment, you’d still like to declare a mission for 2015.

Well, there’s a simple activity out there that health care providers and researchers say improves creativity, sleep, blood pressure and sugar. It lowers the risk of diabetes, breast cancer, colon cancer and obesity. It tones the muscles and heart. And on and on.

It’s called walking.

For older individuals and anyone else who is averse to more intense forms of exercising — like weightlifting, running or contact sports, for example — it’s important to still remain active. Walking isn’t often thought of as exercise, but there are plenty of rewards to reap by doing enough of it.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderately intense physical activity per week, and walking qualifies as such. How vigorous of a workout you want out of it is largely up to you, said Aynsley Anderson, a community education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

If you want aerobic benefits, just walk faster — although it doesn’t have to be to the point that you’re so short of breath you can’t speak as you walk. But even if you’d rather keep things leisurely and just spend less time on your butt, that’s good too.

“We tend to be a nation that’s pretty sedentary,” Anderson said. “I think most people don’t get enough exercise.”

Benefits of walking have also been said to extend to the mind. Amber Watts, an assistant professor of clinical psychology at Kansas University, led a study that suggests walking can help hold off cognitive decline, like dementia, and improve memory. And that kind of thing is not reserved for speed walkers.

“What’s motivating to people is that they don’t think about it as exercise,” Watts said. “Any improvement to what people are already doing is always going to be beneficial.”

Anyone who would like some guidance on a walking routine is in luck. LMH is partnering with the Lawrence Parks and Recreation department to host a free “one-mile walk test” from 7 to 8:30 a.m. Jan. 23 at Rock Sports Pavilion Lawrence.

Participants will be asked to walk one mile at a comfortable pace and will be timed, Anderson said. Using standards set by the Cooper Institute, a nonprofit preventative medicine research organization, staff can assess each participants’ fitness level and discuss goal-setting. The event will conclude with a 9 a.m. presentation on the benefits of walking.

Perfect way to start the new year off right.