By Bob Greene
If you're looking for a way to log a few more steps or add extra minutes to your weekly aerobic tally without having to increase your time at the gym, why not try building more walking into your day? One easy way to do that: Walk to work. A recent study found that people who walked or biked to work were in better shape than those who drove or rode the bus, train or subway. Not only did they fare better on a treadmill test (even when the researchers accounted for their leisure time activity), but men also had a healthier body mass index and blood pressure, as well as lower levels of insulin and trigylcerides (a blood fat).
Of course, walking to work isn't an option for everyone. If you have a long commute or one that involves highways and no walking or bike paths, it's probably not feasible or safe. However, you may be able to walk part of it—for instance, you could drive your car to an area near your office and walk the rest of the distance. And if there's absolutely no way to walk to the office, try to find another regular walking route. Maybe you could walk your child to school or walk to do grocery shopping or other errands.
Aside from the obvious health and weight-loss benefits you'll reap, you may also find that walking helps relieve stress (no traffic jams, a boost in the feel-good chemical called endorphins). There's more: You'll also be helping cut back on pollution and possibly even expenses (you'll be using less gas, causing less wear and tear on your car, and you won't have to pay for parking).
Ready to go? Here are a few things to consider before you start walking to work.
Map it out. Be sure to find a safe and walking-friendly route—this probably will not be the same route you'd drive to work. And be sure to give yourself plenty of time. Figure it will take about 20 minutes or so per mile.
Dress for your commute. Invest in a comfortable and supportive pair of sneakers (pack a pair of work shoes in a backpack or leave them in your office). You may also want to consider wearing a comfortable workout outfit and changing once you get to work if your walk is long or the weather is particularly warm. Backpacks are better than briefcases for carrying clothes, shoes and work material because they distribute the weight more evenly. It's a good idea to check the forecast before you head out so you can make sure that you're dressed appropriately—a rain coat or poncho and umbrella when it's rainy; layers of clothes (moisture-wicking to absorb any sweat, if possible), a hat and gloves when it's cool, etc.
Walk this way. Believe it or not, there's a right way (and wrong way) to walk. The right way: Walk with your shoulders held back, head and chin up, and looking straight in front of you. Avoid rounding your shoulders or looking down, both of which put extra pressure on your neck, shoulders and back.
Consider a pedometer. You can easily track minutes, or if you prefer, you can count steps by wearing a pedometer. Either way, you can log your time or steps in our online exercise log. It can be very motivating to watch your total step count grow and, hopefully, the numbers on the scale dip.
For a great walking program, check out the upcoming The Best Life Guide to Managing Diabetes and Pre-Diabetes.