Walk your way to heart health

April 1st, 2016 by Live Well Omaha Kids

By Ellen Thomsen MS, RD, LMNT, CHI Health

IMG_1450As a mom, I know it’s important for children to live active lives.

But sometimes it is hard to make those mommy and me classes.

Maybe for you, it’s hard to find the time or money for football, gymnastics or another sport.

But you should not lose hope!

Being active can even be as simple as walking 30 minutes a day, five times a week, as recommended by the American Heart Association. You will experience the benefits even if you divide your time into two or three segments of 10-15 minutes per day.

Yes, walking can be your exercise. How easy is that?

Nearly half of preschool-aged children don’t get enough physical activity – a large reason one in three children are overweight or obese – but a stroll around the neighborhood could change that.

Think you’re too busy to walk though? For every hour of brisk walking, your life expectancy can improve two hours. That’s more time for things like backyard barbeques, graduation parties and weddings. More time to live life with your kids.

LSS-GetActive-Infographic-2014Walking daily is one of the simplest changes you can make to effectively improve your heart health while also reducing your cholesterol and blood pressure.

Your children will also experience those benefits. When kids are active, they can better achieve and maintain a healthier weight, which can improve their life expectancy.

(According to the American Heart Association, children in their early teens, who are obese, and who have high triglyceride levels, have arteries similar to those of 45-year-olds.)

Walking is low-cost too – you can do it around your neighborhood or even at the Oak View or Westroads Mall, home of the CHI Health Heart and Sole Walking Program, or around your child’s school. You can walk anywhere!

Schedule walking time on your calendar – or set an alarm on your phone – so you are more accountable. Engage your kids, let them pick the location or add some activities into the walking routine. When I go on walks with my nieces, we tell stories or play games to keep things fun.

Walking can be part of regular life for everyone. That’s why at CHI Health, we’re proud to sponsor National Walking Day (April 6) opportunities across Nebraska and participate in the Omaha-Council Bluffs Heart Walk on May 7.

Children are never too young to be exposed to activity and exercise, even if they’re not walking yet. I take my 6-month-old for walks in the stroller most days after work. It is our time together and he loves to look around outside.

Do not be discouraged if in the beginning, you and your children can only walk for a few minutes. Children have smaller legs than adults and they may tire quickly. Just like you, they need time to build endurance.

Ready to step toward better health?

Grab your comfortable and supportive shoes because you can start today.

Here’s some tips to begin your walking routine:

  • Begin with short distances. Start with a stroll that feels comfortable, like 5-10 minutes, and gradually increase your time or distance each week by 10-20 percent. Add a few minutes each time you lace up until you’re logging 150 minutes a week.
  • Focus on posture. Keep your head lifted, stomach pulled in and shoulders relaxed. Swing your arms naturally. Avoid carrying hand weights since they put extra stress on your elbows and shoulders. Don’t over stride. Select a comfortable, natural step length. If you want to move faster, pull your back leg through more quickly.
  • Breathe deeply. If you can’t talk or catch your breath while walking, slow down. At first, forget about walking speed. Just get out there and walk for a set time, then focus on speed and distance as you progress.
  • End with stretching. The end of your walk is an ideal time to stretch since your body is warmed up. Stretch your hamstrings and calves as well as your chest, shoulders and back. Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Stretching will help you prevent injury.

Remember to be safe while walking, especially if walking outside. Stick to sidewalks and walking paths, rather than walking in the street or through alleys and parking lots.

Keep your attention on your surroundings, not a cell phone, and turn the volume down on your headphones. Better yet, skip the headphones and use this time to catch up with your children.

Wear light colors or reflective clothing that helps keep you visible. Carry a flashlight or glow stick if you walk when visibility is low.

Should the weather be a concern, skip the outdoor walking and create an indoor activity game including walking, jumping and dancing. Don’t forget to join in the fun – lead by example and show the importance of being active!

If you or your children experience pain when walking, stop and check with your doctor to find out the cause, and how to adjust your walking program. The solution may be as simple as better shoes but there could be a larger problem.

Now get started.

Ready, set, go!

P.S. A great way to encourage children to walk is through competition. Once you settle into your walking routine, buy a pedometer for everyone, and see who can get the most steps. Happy walking!

Ellen Thomsen MS, RD, LMNT, is a diabetes educator and fitness instructor at CHI Health Lakeside.


Get Moving!

April 6
National Walking Day
Help Nebraska reach their goal of moving 24,000 active minutes on National Walking Day.
Log your minutes walking and be entered to win heart-healthy prizes!

May 7
Omaha-Council Bluffs Heart Walk locally sponsored by Physicians Mutual

June 4
Omaha Power to End Stroke Walk locally sponsored by Nebraska Medicine

Heart and Sole Walking Program from CHI Health


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