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Taking steps toward a healthier life

It's a new year and people everywhere are making resolutions for the upcoming year. If you're setting new goals that focus on healthier habits, you're in good company. According to Forbes Health, improving mental health, getting fit and losing weight ranked in the top new year's resolutions for 2024.

Two people smiling and walking with arms linked on nature trail.

Many fitness experts say walking is one of the best ways you can get and stay fit. It's good exercise for those who are beginners to physical activity, since they can start at a slower pace and it doesn't put as much strain on joints as more intensive exercises.

Walkers don't need expensive equipment or a gym membership, just a comfortable, supportive pair of shoes and a safe place to walk. If the weather isn't cooperating with walking plans, people can do laps inside their office building or a shopping mall.

Benefits of walking

Weight management. A brisk stroll has been shown to help maintain a healthy weight in several ways. The most obvious way is by burning calories. The number of calories you burn depends on several factors, such your speed, the distance you cover, the terrain (whether you are traveling uphill, downhill or on a flat surface) and how heavy you are. The Walking Calculator can give you an estimate of the number of calories you burn.

Studies from the University of Exeter found that a 15-minute walk can curb sugar cravings. People who get out and move on a regular basis are less likely to binge on chocolate and other sweet snacks, helping them to maintain a healthier diet.

Lowering disease risk.

  • Heart disease. Every step you take makes your heart stronger, which can help lower your risk for heart disease by a significant percentage. Research shows that getting off the couch for just 60 to 90 minutes per week will reduce your risk of heart disease.
  • Diabetes. A recent analysis published by the journal Sports Medicine showed that even a brief walk of only two to five minutes is enough to health lower blood sugar levels after a meal.
  • Arthritis. Studies have proven that walking five to six miles a week has been shown to help prevent arthritis from developing. If you already have arthritis, moving helps by strengthening the muscles that support your hips and knees, which can help reduce joint pain.
  • Hypertension. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that walking at a pace that makes you breathe a little harder will improve blood flow and lower your blood pressure.
  • Breast cancer. Harvard Medical School cites research that indicates women who walk an average of an hour a day lower their risk of breast cancer by about 14 percent.

Strengthening the immune system. A study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that people who keep a moderate pace for 30 to 45 minutes a day had significantly fewer upper respiratory tract infections. When they did get sick, they had milder symptoms compared to sedentary adults.

Increasing your energy level. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, taking a stroll triggers your body to release endorphins and other hormones that increase your energy level.

Improving your mental health. Getting out and moving for as little as 30 minutes, three days a week has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, as well as boosting cognitive abilities.

Boosting creative thinking. A series of brainstorming studies found that walking opens up the flow of ideas. Participants who were walking – especially outdoors – came up with more ideas than those who were sitting.

Better sleep. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, people who logged 10,000 steps a day for four weeks reported falling asleep faster, staying asleep longer and having better sleep quality than people who did not get regular exercise.

How to get started suggests following these safety guidelines:

  • Before you start any new exercise routine, you should talk to your health care provider.
  • Warm up before you walk and cool down afterward to prevent injury.
  • Choose a route that is appropriate for your age and fitness level.
  • Walk in well-lit areas that are designed for pedestrians.
  • Wear bright, reflective clothes when lighting is dim, such as early morning or evening hours.
  • Wear sturdy shoes with good arch support and loose, comfortable clothes.
  • Use sunscreen to protect your skin, even on cloudy days.
  • Drink plenty of water before and after your walk.

Easy ways to fit walking into your daily life

  • Don't drive short distances. When you can, walk to complete your errands.
  • Park in the farthest corner of the parking lot.
  • Use the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • If you commute, get off the bus or train one stop early.
  • If you can, plan walking meetings.
  • Walk to a nearby park to eat your lunch.

Employers can encourage employees to walk

You don't need a fat bank account to help your employees live a healthier life. Even small companies with tight budgets can support employees who want to get more steps in with minimal expense and time commitment. You may find that the following suggestions also boost your company's morale:

  • Provide employees with a pedometer that they can use to track the number of steps they take in a day. Reward employees who average 10,000 steps per day with dress-down Fridays, a slightly longer lunch hour or points that can be collected and redeemed for a gift card.
  • Hold walking meetings.
  • Sponsor on-site weight-loss programs, such as Weight Watchers.
  • Subsidize memberships to local gyms or fitness centers.
  • Offer a wellness program that educates employees about the benefits of healthy lifestyle choices and incentivizes fitness activities.

Workplace wellness programs can help

Employers can help encourage employees to make exercise a daily habit. The Vitality® wellness program, available with the Allstate Benefits Self-Funded Program, encourages members to make lifestyle choices that improve quality of life, increase life expectancy and reduce health care costs for everyone.

Vitality promotes:

  • Physical health by providing incentives to build long-term physical activity habits.
  • Mental health by encouraging sleep and mindfulness habits that improve mental well-being.
  • Nutrition through educational courses, recipes and assessments designed to improve eating habits.
  • Good financial practices that can lessen stress-related illnesses.

The Vitality program has proven effective:

  • 90% of members say Vitality has made them more aware of their health.
  • 80% of members say Vitality feels personalized to them.
  • Highly engaged members have 15% to 19.5% lower claims.
  • 66% of members earn points through activities each month.

Contact a sales representative to learn more about how the Vitality wellness program can benefit your employees.

The Self-Funded Program through Allstate Benefits provides tools for employers owning small to mid-sized businesses to establish a self-funded health benefit plan for their employees. The benefit plan is established by the employer and is not an insurance product. Allstate Benefits is a marketing name for: Integon National Insurance Company in CT, NY and VT; Integon Indemnity Corporation in FL; and National Health Insurance Company in CO, WA and all other states where offered. For employers in the Allstate Benefits Self-Funded Program, stop loss insurance is underwritten by these insurance companies in the noted states.

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