Walk your way to wellness

Victoria Carver, MPH, CPH

Exercise is incredibly important for maintaining and improving our health and wellbeing. 

Options for exercise seem endless and overwhelming. You can run, cycle, lift weights, or take studio classes like aerobics, Zumba, and yoga. 

Despite all the options, there are barriers to exercise too. Time constraints and juggling work with family time, as well as other obligations can make gearing up to go to the gym or run a few miles feel impossible. 

Trying new sports can also be intimidating. Some sports, like skiing, mountain biking, or rock climbing require technical skills that can make learning frustrating and even painful at times. Other sports might require special equipment that can be expensive, difficult to find, or challenging to navigate as a beginner. For as many options as there are for exercise, there are just as many, if not more, excuses not to exercise.

But there’s good news: you don't have to run hours every day or lift heavy weights to be healthy. Here is what you need to know to walk your way to wellness and improved fitness. 

Walking is a great way to stay active and get healthy. It can be done almost anywhere: you can go for a walk down city streets, around an office building, or through nature trails. It doesn’t require any specialized equipment. Just make sure you dress for the weather and the terrain you plan to be walking on. It’s low-impact, easy on the joints, and people of all ages can participate. You can also fit walking into your other activities such as phone calls, meetings, or as a method of transportation while running errands. 

While walking may seem like a simple activity, the health benefits it can provide are significant. The former director of the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Thomas Frieden, described walking as “the closest thing we have to a wonder drug.” 

With heart disease listed as the number one leading cause of death in the United States, it’s easy to see that walking’s biggest benefit is how it can improve circulation. Improved circulation strengthens the heart, lowers blood pressure, and reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, America’s fifth leading cause of death. 

Walking supports joint function by promoting the circulation of synovial fluid: the fluid contained in the joints that helps cushion them and keep them moving properly. This low-impact activity has proven to prevent arthritis from forming, especially in the knees and hips, which are much more likely to be affected by osteoarthritis.

Another benefit walking can provide is strengthening bones and even preventing bone loss due to osteoporosis. These benefits can be especially pronounced in post-menopausal women. One study showed that post-menopausal women who engaged in 30-minute daily walks reduced their risk of hip fracture by 40 percent. 

Walking promotes weight loss. A brisk 30-minute walk will burn about 200 calories on average. But walking isn’t just a great calorie burning activity: a Harvard study of 12,000 people found that walking briskly for an hour a day cut the effects of 32 obesity-promoting genes in half.  

But the benefits of walking aren’t just physical. Walking can also work to improve your mood. Walking, just like many other forms of exercise, releases endorphins in the brain and a study conducted by California State University showed that the more steps people walked throughout the day, the better their mood tended to be. 

No matter your health or fitness goal, the UA Wellness Plan is here to help. Victoria Carver, the wellness plan’s program manager and coach, offers health education classes online and in Fairbanks. She also offers personalized health and wellness coaching to help you get started.

Carver has coached and guided patients recovering from major surgery, beginner runners working toward their first 5k, and even experienced athletes wanting to improve their performance. To make an appointment with Carver, log into your Prevention Cloud online account.

All employees can now login to their wellness account using Single Sign On through the wellness page at: alaska.edu/benefits/wellness/.  

Single Sign On is only available to employees. Spouses/financially interdependent partners will login through preventioncloud.com. Username: FIRST NAME + LAST NAME + Birth year (JOHNDOE1984) Password: Date of Birth (MMDDYYYY).

UA wellness coordinator Victoria Carver can be contacted at (907) 450-8203 or victoria.c@zomohealth.com.