Walk On: Benefits of Walking
Al Roker has been on a weight loss journey for the past two decades. Al, a meteorologist, and co-anchor of NBC’s TODAY show underwent gastric bypass surgery when he was 340 pounds and wore size 54 Levi jeans. Maintaining his weight has been a struggle, but Al says, “I’m never going back.”
Recently, the TODAY show weatherman announced that he lost 45 pounds over several months from low-impact exercise, consisting mainly of walking, and eating a low-carb diet. He also worked with a trainer to practice some weight and resistance exercises.
On June 1, Al kicked off a 30-day walking plan for TODAY show viewers and his social media followers. Al was on his 153rd day of walking more than 10,000 steps a day when he launched the show’s walking challenge. He encouraged beginning walkers to work their way up by starting with 2,500 steps a day. Then, once you start, “you become obsessed,” Al said.
Health experts agree that walking is one of the best exercises, by far, primarily because it is a low-impact exercise that can be done anywhere and started at any time. Walking also has a number of health benefits. According to the American Heart Association, research shows that walking at least 150 minutes a week can:
- Improve blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood cholesterol levels
- Increase energy and stamina
- Improve mental and emotional well-being
- Reduce risks of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, several types of cancer, and other serious diseases
To celebrate National Walking Month in May, Jess Bantleman, the social media manager for Women’s Health UK magazine, challenged herself by walking 30 minutes every day for a month. Jess wrote an article about what she learned from her challenge:
- Walking forced her to slow down, compared to when she is at a gym for an hour and feels as if she has to do something every minute of that hour.
- Walking is adaptable. When the weather was bad, Jess said she went to a gym and walked on a treadmill using the “12-3-30″ method:
- Set the treadmill incline to 12 percent
- Set the speed to 3 mph
- Walk for 30 minutes
- Taking her dog along kept her motivated, and gave her dog the exercise he needed, too.
After completing her 30-day challenge, Jess said she has decided to continue walking, but probably not every day. She plans to replace at least two of her gym workouts with walking.
Jess said making a commitment to walk kept her consistent. She advises potential walkers to set an amount of time that is realistic to them and remain consistent.
A Summer Walking Plan
A walking challenge is not limited to National Walking Month in May, it’s a great exercise for the summer. Stephanie Mansour, a certified personal trainer and a contributing health and fitness writer for TODAY, recommends a 30-day summer walking plan that involves:
- Walking Workout 1: Start with a 20-minute slow walk. Focus on breathing. Breathe in through the nose and out through your mouth.
- Walking Workout 2: Speed up the 20-minute walk. Walk at a normal pace for four minutes then speed up and walk briskly for four minutes. Alternate walking this way for 20 minutes. As an alternative to keeping track of time, keep track by blocks or mileage. For instance, walk four blocks at a regular pace, and speed up for four blocks.
- Alternating between regular walking and doing butt kicks or high-knee marching every other block or every 100 steps instead of traditional walking. This helps to loosen up your hip flexors, stretch your quads, and improve your balance.
- Step up the workout by using wrist weights, or ankle weights, or pumping your arms.
Walkers can get a bigger boost by purposely engaging in mental health exercises at the same time. Stephanie recommends:
- Choosing a one-word mantra and focusing on the word during the walk. The word could be something like “peace,” “strength,” “air,” or “relaxation.”
- Choosing an element of nature, such as the sun, trees, or the wind. Whenever you begin stressing out or your mind starts wandering, remember that element of nature.
- Listening to a positive podcast during your walk.
- Take a break during your walk and take some deep breaths while stretching. Focus on inhaling and exhaling, letting any thoughts that come to mind simply pass through.
After two weeks of doing the walking workouts, Stephanie suggests adding in strength training before, during, or after the walk, such as squats and calf raises.
Pandemic Prompts Brooklyn Resident To Exercise
Sherrie Dampeer’s job shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and she was determined not to sit at home, eat, and gain more weight. Sherrie, of Brooklyn, NY, said she had struggled with her weight, just like her mother who had hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure, and mobility issues because of her excessive weight. Sherrie said her mother was in a nursing home before she died because she could no longer care for herself.
So, Sherrie decided to join the “Start TODAY” Facebook group in 2020 to get herself motivated to exercise and lose weight. She started walking and began to make gradual changes to her eating habits. For example, she added more vegetables to her diet. She began drinking more water and adding unsweetened cocoa or cinnamon to her coffee instead of sugar, and she’s weaning herself off of creamer. While she still eats a hamburger and French fries, she doesn’t eat them every day.
Sherrie went back to work in July 2021, but she continued to walk. Sherrie said she walks in her house before she goes to work, she walks to a train station further from home, and she walks near work in the morning, at lunchtime, or at the end of the day.
Sherrie’s hard work and dedication have paid off in a number of ways, most of all by losing 50 pounds and feeling “better and lighter.” She also became an ambassador for WorkWell NYC, a health and wellness program her employer promotes.
In walking at least 10,000 steps a day, Sherrie says she’s walked almost every bridge in New York City.
“Walking is therapeutic for me,” she said in an interview with TODAY. “I see different areas of neighborhoods, and if I see a historical building or something nice, I’ll take a picture and post it at the end of the day. I try to make exercise fun, so I will stick with it, so it doesn’t feel like a job.”