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Local business leaders step up to raise awareness and get Western Mass walking

SPRINGFIELD From coast to coast, including right here in Western Massachusetts, Americans will lace up their sneakers and take steps literally to increase physical activity. National Start! Walking Day, in its fourth year including more than 3.2 million people representing about 1,300 companies is sponsored by the American Heart Association (AHA) as part of its Start! initiative. Start! champions walking because it has the lowest dropout rate of any physical activity. The association conducts the National Start! Walking Day primarily in the workplace because jobs are becoming increasingly sedentary and Americans are working 164 more hours per year than 20 years ago. Laila Ali, world champion athlete and former professional boxer, is part of the initiative to encouraging people to walk 30 minutes today as part of National Start! Walking Day. Ali is a natural choice of spokesperson for the AHA. "I've always been interested in health and wellness, and I am honored to work with the American Heart Association, an organization dedicated to preventing heart disease," said Ali, whose family has a history of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. "As a working mother, I have to fit my workouts in when I can." On April 7 in Western Massachusetts, members of the 2010 Pioneer Valley Start! Heart Walk Executive Leadership Team along with their employees and fellow workers will take time out of their work day to walk from and raise awareness of the benefits of being active. Anyone interested in walking along with Walk Chair Carlos Martins, Senior Vice-President of Operations of RiverBend Medical Group, can do so from noon to 1 p.m. at RiverBend Medical in Chicopee. In January, the AHA identified physical activity as one of seven key factors to achieve ideal cardiovascular health as part of its new 2020 goal to improve cardiovascular health and reduce deaths. According to a recent AHA study, only 15 percent of American adults achieve the association's recommended levels of moderate aerobic exercise, 30 minutes a day for five days a week. "The importance of regular physical activity cannot be overstated," said Clyde Yancy, M.D., president of the AHA. "Our latest research demonstrates that 70 percent of American adults report being told by a healthcare professional to make a lifestyle change and 33 percent of those were told to exercise more. Simply put, we all need to get up and do more." The AHA recommends that all adults avoid inactivity. Walking vigorously for as little as 30 minutes, preferably most days of the week, can promote weight loss, decrease the risk of coronary heart disease and lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, the association said. Additional benefits occur as the amount and intensity of physical activity increases. Some adults also may gain up to two hours of life expectancy for each hour of regular, vigorous physical activity, such as very brisk walking. The AHA's robust Web site startwalkingnow.org includes strategies to help people get started and stay on a physical activity regimen. They include: Three customized walking programs (beginner, intermediate and advanced) Online tracking tools to document calories consumed, steps taken and routes walked Sole mates social networking capabilities to find and support like-minded walkers Downloadable seasonal walking guides with tips to maintain a routine regardless of weather Walking videos, produced in collaboration with ExerciseTV, that make an at-home workout easier with tips and motivation, and Social media daily walking guide with inspirational messages, heart-health tips of the day, video content from Exercise TV, community chat capability and a private journal.

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