Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Join Us for National Walk@Lunch Day April 27

Dr. John Howell, medical director of University Physicians Group, walks with Bobbi Tucker, nurse manager of University Physicians Group. USA employees are encouraged to join businesses, schools and other organizations throughout the state by participating in National Walk@Lunch Day on April 27.
University of South Alabama employees are encouraged to join businesses, schools and other organizations throughout the state by participating in National Walk@Lunch Day on April 27.

For some employees, walking at lunch can be a first step toward a healthier lifestyle. For others, it can be a way to enhance their current level of exercise.

Dr. John Howell, medical director of University Physicians Group, said regular brisk walking can help you maintain a healthy weight; prevent or manage various conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes; strengthen your bones and muscles; improve your mood; and improve your balance and coordination.

One study published by the Journal of the American College of Cardiology compared adults who spent less than two hours a day in front of the TV or other screen-based entertainment with those who logged more than four hours a day of recreational screen time. Those with greater screen time had a nearly 50 percent increased risk of death from any cause and an approximate 125 percent increased risk of events associated with cardiovascular disease such as chest pain or heart attack.

According to Dr. Howell, sitting in front of the TV isn't the only concern. “Any extended sitting — such as behind a desk at work or behind the wheel — can be harmful,” he said.

Dr. Howell suggests following the American Heart Association’s recommendation that adults get 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. “Even short, 10-minute activity sessions can be added up over the week to reach this goal,” he said.

If you would benefit from lowering your blood pressure or cholesterol, aim for 40-minute sessions of moderate to vigorous activity three to four times a week. “You could do this by walking two miles briskly,” Dr. Howell said. “Use the ‘talk test’ to make sure you aren’t over-exerting yourself. If you become short of breath and can’t talk, then slow down. Brisk walking is defined as when you could talk to someone, but not sing a song while walking.”

For those who are committed to starting a walking regimen but have not participated in regular exercise for a while, it is important to take certain steps to make it an enjoyable and safe experience. Dr. Howell recommends drinking plenty of water before, during and after activity; warming up for five minutes before starting to exercise and cooling down for five minutes after; and starting slowly. If you have health issues or concerns, seek medical guidance before beginning any new exercise regimen.

“Starting a walking program takes initiative,” Dr. Howell added. “Sticking with it takes commitment.”

To stay motivated, the American Heart Association recommends the following:

•    Set yourself up for success. Start with a simple goal, such as, "I'll take a 10-minute walk during my lunch break." When your 10-minute walk becomes a habit, set a new goal, such as, "I'll walk for 20 minutes after work." Find specific times for walks. Soon you could be reaching for goals that once seemed impossible.
•    Make walking enjoyable. If you don't enjoy solitary walks, ask a friend or neighbor to join you. If you're invigorated by groups, join a health club. You might like listening to music while you walk.
•    Vary your routine. If you walk outdoors, plan several different routes for variety. If you're walking alone, be sure to tell someone which route you're taking. Walk in safe, well-lit locations.
•    Take missed days in stride. If you find yourself skipping your daily walks, don't give up. Remind yourself how good you feel when you include physical activity in your daily routine, and then get back on track.

People also find that setting goals with fitness trackers can be beneficial to motivation, especially if they let you share goals and “compete” with friends.

Dr. Howell said that to get the most benefit from walking, it needs to be time set aside for contiguous exercise. “Work up to 30 minutes daily, but try to get the 30 minutes at least five times a week,” he said. “Set a goal, or several smaller goals to work up to the recommended levels of exercise. It may be tough at first, but the rewards can be impressive.”

National Walk@Lunch Day was designed by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association "to encourage people of all ages, backgrounds and lifestyles to make walking a healthy habit for life."

Participation is easy. Bring your comfortable footwear to work. Take up to 30 minutes (as your lunch break permits) during your regular lunch break to walk at your work location. Walk alone at your own pace or with your co-workers.

To learn more about the Employee Wellness Initiatives Committee and National Walk@Lunch Day, visit the committee's website at  http://www.southalabama.edu/departments/wellnessinitiatives.

Dr. Howell is an internal medicine physician at University Physicians Group. Both Dr. Howell and Kate Ferguson, nurse practitioner, are currently accepting new patients at the clinic. To schedule an appointment, call 660-5787.

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