“There are so many benefits to walking and it’s easy,” says Suzanne Hobson, director of community health for Akron General Medical Center. “It’s easy to get started and it’s one of the easiest things you can do to improve your health and stay active.”
AGMC is again partnering with the Ohio & Erie Canalway Coalition to promote walking this year along the towpaths and trails throughout Summit County. The featured event, Healthy Steps, runs all summer.
Smart Business spoke with Hobson about how walking can lead to a healthier lifestyle.
How is walking beneficial for your health?
It gives you more energy. It can help you relax or reduce stress. It can obviously tone your muscles and help control your appetite. It increases the number of calories your body uses and it can reduce your cardiovascular risk factors. It’s an easy way to get physically active and it's inexpensive. What do you need? A pair of walking shoes.
How much do you have to walk to see a difference?
We recommend 10,000 steps a day (approximately five miles), which is really what the surgeon general also recommends to reduce health risks associated with being overweight or obesity.
If you’re very active in your job and running all over the place, you can count those steps toward your 10,000 steps a day. Our program is set up like walking a marathon. We figured that 52,400 steps would qualify you for a marathon. There are different levels: gold averages 10,000 steps a day, silver is 7,500 steps a day and bronze is 5,000 steps a day. You don't have to be a marathon runner to do a marathon. We bring it down to people who enjoy walking as their activity of choice.
We suggest people talk to their health care provider about adding exercise through walking before starting a program. That’s why we make different levels so people don't get discouraged, because 10,000 steps a day is a lot.
How does walking help prevent heart disease?
One of the risk factors of heart disease is being overweight. That puts more stress on the heart. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. Walking or other regular aerobic exercise, as well as a diet low in fat and other checkups are key to a heart-healthy lifestyle.
How can you add steps to everyday life?
Take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk to the mailbox instead of driving to it. Park a greater distance from the door and don't necessarily take the closest spot.
Walk around the parking lot, use a push mower instead of a riding mower, and grab a friend and go for a walk. Some companies have walking trails. Maybe during a lunch break, take a little walk, especially as the weather gets better.
Can a pedometer help?
What’s fun with the pedometer is it just gets you to start thinking about how many steps you take. After a while you probably won’t need the pedometer, but it’s something nice that can give you an idea of how many steps you do take in a given day. It can also help motivate you to take more steps if you realize you don’t quite have 10,000 or if you realize you can do a little more. And you’ll feel better, too, after you do it.
Different pedometers are available, but anything to get you starting to think about how many steps you take will be great. I’d recommend it to anybody.
How can an employer implement a walking program for employees?
It’s not easy. As busy as people are, it’s not easy to stay active by walking. It’s easier to jump in the car and go somewhere than it is to think ahead and say, ‘OK, if I park over here I can get another few steps in.’ Include some milestones for people to achieve, then throw their names in a hat for a drawing. People tend to get excited about the drawings and the prizes. Give prizes like gift certificates to sporting goods stores or a place to get tennis shoes. The key is just to get people out and walking.
SUZANNE HOBSON is the director of community health for Akron General Medical Center. To reach her, or for more information about Healthy Steps, phone (330) 434-5657.