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Walk for your life!
  By Nicole Johnson, MA, MPH

Pedometers have been an exercise tool of choice for years. These days you see them everywhere. Companies and hospitals are promoting and giving them away with the message – walk for your life!

I have several. My daughter even has a few that she calls her “pumps.” (You wouldn’t believe the number of steps she can wrack up!)

The pedometer craze seems to have started with former Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson. A few years ago, he created a program called Big Steps, Big Rewards. At the launch of the initiative, he gave employees of HHS pedometers and told them he was putting the Department on a diet and shaping up our country. Shortly thereafter, Secretary Thompson lost more than 25 pounds much of which he attributes to his pedometer. The rule of thumb is: 10,000 steps a day for health maintenance, 12,000 steps a day for weight loss.

Turns out that this little number gatherer is not bad for motivation too. My pedometers have encouraged competitions with family members, friends, even my child. Whoever has the most steps wins. It is great for me – and my diabetes – because at the end of the day if my step count isn’t where I want it to be, I am tempted to walk around the block or to hop on the treadmill for a few minutes.

This is especially important to me this season, because as it gets cooler I get a little less dedicated to my exercise routine. Yes, I have broken my 2008 resolutions and need to get in gear with a little more movement.

As luck would have it, as I was preparing this article, I learned about “Mr. Diabetes”, Andy Mandell. Andy runs the website www.defeatdiabetes.org and this December will complete a journey of over 10,000 miles of walking to raise awareness about diabetes. His journey began because he got fed up with diabetes controlling him and his life. After being bedridden for two years and nearly succumbing to the disease, Andy decided to take charge. Over the last eight years, Andy has walked 12-15 miles every day to complete a journey around the perimeter of the United States. In the process he has gained control of his condition and has affected the lives of thousands of others living with the disease. I wonder what Andy’s pedometer reads from his journey!

There are others who have also walked their way to better diabetes control and management. Bob Scheidt walked across America for diabetes in 1999. As Bob puts it, "I see exercise as part of the holistic therapy for optimum control of diabetes, because it affects, in almost equal measures, the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of day-to-day living." He goes on to mention, "I believe that exercise puts us in touch with our ancient nature. For our ancestors, movement was life -- they had to go out to hunt or gather or farm just to survive. In the modern world, we've lost that vital connection with physical activity."

I met Bob as he was on his diabetes awareness journey. His energy was boundless and his tales intense. Bob has had type 1 diabetes for more than 35 years.

Bob and Andy have taken the notion of walking to extreme levels. You don’t have to commit to walking across the country to get into good diabetes control and into good shape. If you walk 2 miles every day, in three years you will have walked 2190 miles! Just think what that would do for your diabetes and your waistline!

Hippocrates once said, “Walking is man’s best medicine.” Sadly, fewer than 50% of American adults do enough exercise to gain any health or fitness benefits from their physical activity.

With that in mind, here, adapted from www.MedicineNet.com, are some of the best reasons to walk:

  1. The Diabetes Prevention Program showed that walking 150 minutes a week and losing just 12-15 pounds reduced the risk of diabetes and diabetes complications by 58%.
  2. Walking strengthens your heart.
  3. Walking is good for your brain. A recent study on walking showed improvements in cognitive function when women walked 1.5 hours per week.
  4. Walking is good for your bones. Bone density is higher in women who walk at least 1 mile each day.
  5. Walking helps alleviate symptoms of depression. Symptoms of depression were reduced by nearly 50% when people walked over 90 minutes each week.
  6. Walking reduces breast and colon cancer. Studies show an 18% reduction in breast cancer for women who walk more than 1 hour a week.
Another benefit of walking is weight loss. Caloric burn is never a bad thing! Here is the rule of thumb on how many calories you will burn while walking from www.MedicineNet.com.

“A 150-pound man burns 100 calories per mile; a 200-pund man burns 133 calories per mile; and a 250-pound man burns 166 calories per mile. You burn virtually the same number of calories whether you run or walk a mile; you just get there faster if you run.” The point, you are burning a bunch of calories. And that either can help you lose a little weight or can give you license to enjoy an extra treat. sion and see if you can apply parts of it for your fall fitness routine.

A Ten-Week Walking Plan

Getting Started
Step One
Weeks One and Two
A useful aid that will help you keep track of how far you walk and how long you walk is a pedometer.
To begin - note the time you start and walk for 8 minutes at whatever your normal pace is on level ground. When you have been walking for 8 minutes turn round and walk back for 8 minutes. Do this at least three times a week.
Try to find several interesting routes if possible. Boredom is your enemy and will kill your walking plan and goals. In addition, try to find a walking buddy.

Step Two
Weeks Three and Four
On these weeks you are going to walk for 20 minutes at a time on level ground. Walk for 10 minutes at your normal pace.
Then on your returning walk, try to walk briskly. You may get out of breath at first – if you do then slow down to your normal pace until you are breathing naturally. Then, increase to a brisk pace again.
It will take several days to adjust to doing this so don’t worry if you find it difficult. Take your time; the benefits will come! You should aim to do the return walk in less than 10 minutes. Do this 3 or 4 times a week.

Step Three
Weeks Five and Six
If you could return home in less than 10 minutes then move on to this step – if you were finding step 2 difficult, then have another week at Step 2 levels. We are all different and if you are experiencing fatigue after your 20 minute walks persevere and stay on Step 2 until you feel ready to move on to Step 3.
In weeks 5 and 6, you should increase your outward journey time to thirteen or fourteen minutes - walking at your normal pace. You then aim to get back in less – don’t run; just stride purposefully as if you were late for an appointment. You are just competing against yourself. Do this 3 or 4 times a week.

Step Four
Weeks Seven and Eight
Now, increase your walking to 30 minutes a day. On your outward journey - you walk for 10 minutes at your normal pace and increase to 5 minutes of walking briskly. For your return journey you walk all the way back at a brisk pace.
Walk for 4 times a week if possible (or at least 3).

Step Five
Weeks Nine and Ten
Walk at your normal pace for the first five minutes of your outward journey and then walk briskly for 10 minutes and all the way back. Do this 4 or 5 times a week. Try to take one longer walk in the week.
If you can’t fit in a 30 minute walk one day - then don't worry just try doing two shorter ones instead - it is often possible to walk in your lunch hour. By the end of the 10 weeks you should have built up a regular walking routine. (http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art29236.asp)

Just remember, if you are starting a walking program, take it slow. The key is consistency. If you walk more every day, you will achieve your goal and you will see results. Remember, always talk to you medical team before starting a new exercise program.

Starting a new routine or even staying in a routine is always difficult. It is important to remember that activity should be fun! You should enjoy yourself. If you are not happy, you will not be consistent.

Here are a few tips to help you use your imagination in increasing your step count and start walking for life.

*    Take a walk with your spouse, child, or friend
*    Walk the dog * Use the stairs instead of the elevator
*    Park farther from the store
*    Better yet, walk to the store
*    Get up to change the channel
*    Window shop
*    Plan a walking meeting
*    Walk over to visit a neighbor
*    Get outside to walk around the garden or do a little weeding
*    Walk during your lunch hour
*    Get off the bus a stop early and walk to your final destination
*    Don’t forget, walking can be romantic

Nicole Johnson, MA, MPH, Miss America 1999, is an international diabetes advocate. She travels extensively promoting awareness, prevention, and early detection of the condition she has shared for fifteen years. She has written four books including her autobiography, Living with Diabetes. Nicole serves on numerous advisory boards including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Council of Public Representatives, the Florida Governor's Diabetes Advisory Council and the Tampa Bay chapters of the American Diabetes Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. She is also a past national board member for the American Diabetes Association. Over the last nine years, Nicole has helped raise approximately $20 million for diabetes research and programs.

Learn more at www.nicolejohnson.com

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