Article written by Chris Zellers, MPP Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County’s Family Community & Health Sciences published on 5/31, 2023.
Exercise is an important component of a healthy lifestyle. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends 150-300 minutes of physical activity each week, with two additional days that include weight bearing exercise. Walking is a free way to reach movement goals while preventing chronic diseases and supporting mental and physical health. The Walk Cape May County Guidebook was developed by Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County’s Family & Community Health Sciences Department and offers both residents and visitors the opportunity to experience the county’s beauty while being physically active with over 100 miles of walking trails and parks.
No matter how active you are, walking is a good way to stay active as the body ages. Intensity levels can be adjusted as needed to make walking easy, anywhere, any time and for any fitness level. More regular and experienced walkers can increase the pace of movement, use arm movements or add distance to make walking a more challenging form of physical activity. Experienced walkers may want to increase their pace for a short distance and then slow to a moderate stride to make the walk more of an interval type workout and to challenge the body more rigorously. Experienced walkers can enjoy a continuous vigorous pace that will be less strenuous on the body compared to running and offers many of the benefits of high intensity aerobic exercise like increased heart rate and increased aerobic capacity.
Health Benefits of Walking include assisting with chronic diseases prevention like diabetes, cancer and heart disease while also supporting better overall health. Additionally, walking supports better sleep quality, increased energy, and improved mood. Before starting any new exercise routine, it is important to consult with a doctor. Walking is free but it is important to have safe supportive walking attire like sneakers and weather appropriate clothing. Dressing appropriately to avoid overheating or being too cold can provide comfort and stamina when it’s hot or if the sea breezes are too chilly. Loose-fitting comfortable clothing is appropriate for walking, but it can be done in almost any clothing provided proper footwear is being used. Beginners should start at a moderate pace and gradually increase to a more vigorous walk. Begin with smaller distances and extend the length as frequency builds. Try walking for at least ten minutes at a time if moving at a moderate pace.
Cape May County, New Jersey is home to 620 square miles of beautiful sandy beaches, Pinelands Forest, trails, and parks making it the perfect place to enjoy walking in nature. Walking in nature has been shown to have health benefits such as decreasing anxiety, depression, and stress. Using the sounds of nature like the ocean or birds chirping can bring awareness to surroundings and an appreciation or mindfulness of the world around us relieving the pressures of being constantly ‘plugged in’ to technology devices. Try to unplug by walking in nature and enjoying the sights, sounds and smells.
Exercise levels vary with every individual and age, fitness level, and gender may affect how much, how long and at what rate a person can exercise. Understanding levels of exercise exertion can assist with gaining stamina and maximizing workouts, while also preventing overexertion for people who have special health conditions or may be limited to specific levels of exertion. One way to determine exertion rates is using the talk test, if talking or singing is not difficult that is a low exertion rate, if talking comfortably is not difficult but singing is, that is a more moderate intensity level and if speaking a few words is difficult without gasping for breath that is a vigorous exercise level. Being aware of exertion rates while walking can assist in staying within needed boundaries or increasing exercise for a more vigorous workout.
Americans live a sedentary lifestyle meaning a large portion of work and home life involves sitting more than moving. Walking provides people of all ages and physical ability with a suitable option to move more and sit less. The introduction of wearable step monitors has created a demand for Americans to reach 10,000 steps per day; however that figure is not scientifically based. A goal of 10,000 steps is a random figure that was developed to create more movement. The number of steps a person should move will vary but the overarching message of the 10,000-step goal is to move more to improve overall health. All steps count and walking is a great way to avoid a sedentary lifestyle.
Engaging in regular physical activity such as walking prevents disease, lightens mood, and creates an overall sense of well-being. The beautiful trails, beaches, forests, and paths of Cape May County New Jersey offer endless opportunity to explore nature and get fit. Enjoy walking in Cape May County! Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County wants to know how you are using the beautiful trails throughout the county. If you see our QR code at a trail please take our survey, the first 100 respondents will receive an incentive for participation.
To access the entire Walk Cape May County Guidebook, use this QR Code or go to: https://go.rutgers.edu/2guaycb6