Little changes every day, like crowding out soda and sugary drinks with water and green tea, replacing cheese and chips with veggies and hummus, and taking a short walk after meals instead of sitting in front of the TV, can make a big impact on your health.
And according to new research from Duke University exercise doesn't have to be intense to do the job. Walking may even be more protective against diabetes than running. For the study, researchers followed a group of sedentary, non-smokers with prediabetes (elevated glucose levels) but no evidence of cardiovascular disease as they walked 13.8 miles per week for a period of 6 months. Those results were compared to a group who ran the same distance for the same period of time and, guess what?
The walkers had 6 times more improvement in their glucose tolerance than the runners did. One theory is that walking burns more fat than running does, and too much fat makes it harder for your body to process insulin. If the cells can’t effectively use insulin, they absorb less blood sugar from the bloodstream, which leads to prediabetes and full-blown diabetes.
Boston-area sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, RD, agrees. "Low-level exercise, such as walking, burns fat; more intense exercise, such as running, burns carbs," she explains adding that the study isn't telling the whole story. "It’s important to look at the entire day’s activity. I’d be interested to know if the subjects who ran sat more for the rest of the day because they were tired," she said.
"On the other hand, I'd like more information about the group that walked. Did the exercise energize them so that they were inspired to go on to do yardwork, house cleaning, or other activities?” Clark explains adding that ANY exercise is better than no exercise. "So if you are more likely to walk than run, you should know that walking is an effective investment in your health.”
Whether you’re walking around the block, through a park on a hiking trail or just marching in place during TV commercial breaks in your living room, walking can be a terrific way to move. My walking program (outlined below) is designed to help get you into a routine of stepping out.
A dizzying array of walking workouts is available on YouTube and cable fitness channels. There are numerous walking apps that can be downloaded on iTunes. Or, you can check out my complete program, NikkiFitness Anti-aging Walking Workout, available on Amazon. Add some fun music, a guided meditation or an audio-book, bring along your dog, significant other or best friend and walking for your health will also make you happy! Here’s how to get started:
Week 1: Walk ½ mile or 10 minutes, Monday - Friday. Rest Saturday. Do yoga/pilates/lift weights on Sunday.
Week 2: Walk 1 mile or 20 minutes Monday - Friday. Rest Saturday. Do yoga/pilates/lift weights on Sunday.
Week 3: Walk 2 miles or 30 minutes Monday - Friday. Rest Saturday. Do yoga/pilates/lift weights on Sunday.
Week 4: Walk 3 miles or 40-45 minutes Monday - Friday. Rest Saturday. Do yoga/pilates/lift weights on Sunday.
Work Out Because You Can!
Health coaches are a growing trend, but what is a health coach exactly and what can they do to improve well being? Health coaches often wear many hats. Many offer a combination of nutrition expertise, life coaching, personal training, fitness inspiration and accountability.
Some coaches are registered dietitians with some fitness background. Others are therapists who specialize in nutrition and fitness. Regardless of background, all health coaches can help you incorporate more healthy foods into your diet, find holistic ways to cure ailments (that could be stemming from your lifestyle), and even explore whether roadblocks to your wellness may be related to career unhappiness, or distress in your relationships.
To find the best fit for your particular needs, conduct an Internet search using the terms "health coach" and your zip code. Ask potential health coaches for a list of credentials and certifications. Be on the lookout for coaches who are simply pushing a particular company’s product/shake/supplement or meal plan.
A good health coach can’t prescribe or take you off prescriptions, but he or she will work in conjunction with your doctor(s) to determine if food and lifestyle changes might improve chronic problems such as diabetes, arthritis, rashes, allergies, inflammation and weight gain. (Holistic and integrated lifestyle changes have helped many people get off medication.) Working in conjunction with a health coach and your doctor can be a terrific support system.
Disclosure: I am a health coach certified in personal training and group fitness instruction from the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. I'm also a Registered Yoga Training (RYT) instructor (200 hours) from YogaFit, and I have a health coach certification from the Institute of Integrated Nutrition.