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Walking (for exercise) is easier than you think

Lewis Ware (left) leads the Lenox Hotel employees walking club on a short walk. The group takes a midday jaunt a couple times a week. “We all come back happy,” Ware says.
Lewis Ware (left) leads the Lenox Hotel employees walking club on a short walk. The group takes a midday jaunt a couple times a week. “We all come back happy,” Ware says.Credit: Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Walking may be the simplest form of exercise, but even the biggest fitness buffs miss countless opportunities to do more of it; in fact, some go out of their way to avoid it.

There’s the woman who spends five minutes driving around in search of a parking spot near the gym instead of walking a few extra blocks — and burning a few extra calories. Or the guy who drives half a mile to get ice cream instead of walking there and working off the butter pecan on the way home.

“It’s hilarious,” said Ryan Dando, a trainer at Beacon Hill Athletic Clubs in Brighton. “People spend thousands and thousands of dollars on fad equipment or fad workouts, and then in the same breath they tell me they live right next door to the gym and they drove here.”

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Exercise authorities recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, and the good news is that this activity includes walking, an ideal form of exercise for baby boomers whose knees may be too worn out to run and whose exercise bikes have become clothes racks.

The even better news is that you can achieve moderate intensity while still carrying on a conversation. The best news of all is that the 150 minutes can be broken up into brisk 10-minute walks to the deli or the eighth-floor conference room if that’s all you have time to do — the long-term health benefits are the same.

In other words, everything counts, said Todd Galati at the American Council on Exercise. “People say, ‘I can’t go out and train like those marathon runners,’ and I’m thinking, ‘Wow unless that’s your goal, why would you want to?’ ” he said.

With that in mind, a few suggestions for ways to painlessly incorporate walking into your daily routine.

Make it interesting: Explore new parts of the city; find a trail and watch the sun set. Go to the mall if you must, just avert your eyes going by Cinnabon.

Make it productive: Listen to an audiobook on your iPod. Walk the dog. Call your mother.

Make it a routine: Forget about those walking apps, which are easy to ignore. Put up an old-fashioned calendar on your fridge and mark every day you walk, with the time and mileage. Heck, give yourself a gold star for reaching 150 minutes in a week.

Get your money’s worth: Buy an expensive pair of sneakers. You don’t want those pricey kicks to go to waste, do you?

Make it convenient: Make like a Boy Scout and be prepared by keeping a pair of sneakers in your office, in your car, or by the front door.

Socialize: Form a walking club with your neighbors or co-workers. A group of about dozen employees at the Lenox Hotel in the Back Bay get together once or twice a week to take a midday jaunt through the city. On a recent trek they went down Boylston Street, around Boston Common, and back up Newbury Street.

Lewis Ware, 58, the director of housekeeping, has no idea how long the route takes because he’s too busy catching up with his colleagues. And unlike when he challenges one of them to a game of racquetball, there are no winners and losers in walking.

“We all come back happy,” Ware said.

Abandon your car: Take the T to work once a week. Walk to get your Saturday morning coffee. Go against all that is natural and take the first parking space you see.

Be aware of opportunities: Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Get up and ask your co-worker a question instead of e-mailing him — just try not to startle him with an actual face-to-face encounter.

Try different forms of exercise: Pole walking, using Nordic walking poles that you plant on the ground in front of you as you stride, is good for people with arthritis and lower back pain because putting some of your weight on the poles reduces the strain on knees, hips, and lower back. Walking with poles can also elevate your heart rate, oxygen consumption, and calorie expenditure 15 to 20 percent higher than ordinary walking.

Move your upper body: Pump your arms as you walk to get your heart rate up. And don’t worry about what you look like. “Health before vanity any time,” said Ted Aransky, director of fitness at Hebrew SeniorLife, an elder care provider in Boston.

Walk in place while you wait: Are you willing to be that person marching in place while you wait for the bus or stand in line at the grocery store? If so, more power to you. Just don’t expect to make any new friends that day.

Walking in a pool: is easier on older adults because the buoyancy of the water reduces the load on your joints.

Set a goal: Wear a pedometer and push yourself to reach the recommended 10,000 steps in a day. Better yet, check out the upcoming recommendations from the American Council on Exercise on training to walk a half marathon, which sounds far more doable than running one.

And finally, reward yourself: when you hit your goal: And no, not with a cheeseburger.

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