Things feel pretty weird right now to Americans.
Since we celebrated the New Year, we have seen President Obama’s executive action with rudimentary gun control measures met with widespread backlash from the gun lobby and its political supporters, a state of emergency in California due to a methane leak and Virginia’s GOP launched a pledge that would make it harder for minorities and the poor to vote. One thing we still have not seen, though, is a single Republican presidential candidate acknowledge climate change in the debates despite the historic climate deal in Paris just before the holidays.
The country will hear from President Obama tomorrow night during his the State of the Union address. As for the state of our democracy, we have serious work to do. The good news is that the American people have never been more determined to claim a democracy that represents the people and the issues that matter to us. From issue to issue, people power is winning, and claiming our democracy will be no different.
Today, Bernie Sanders became the first presidential candidate to sign a pledge launched by Greenpeace and partners asking all candidates to support a people-powered democracy and reject campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry. This is the first step in a historic journey to restore power to the people in this country.
To understand the state of our democracy and what’s fueling the growing democracy movement today here are three important realities we must face.
Reality 1: Money in Politics
Let’s start with out-of-control money in politics and its inflated influence on our government.
Private money, from industries like oil and gas, is manipulating our democracy so egregiously that it is has almost ceased to be a real democracy at all. The passage of Citizens United in 2010 unleashed unlimited spending and corporate influence. Individuals can now donate millions to the candidate of their choice.
We have seen the consequences of this. For instance, not one question about climate change was asked during either the Republican or Democratic presidential debates just days after the world reached a historic climate deal in Paris.
In a #DemDebate ostensibly focused on the economy, health, and nat'l security, @ABC failed to ask about #climatechange—essential to all 3.— Greenpeace USA (@Greenpeace USA)1450582584.0
Despite her recent comments on fossil fuels and climate change recently, even Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton receives money connected to the fossil fuel industry via industry lobbyists who have bundled contributions to the campaign.
We experience the impacts of excessive corporate influence on our politicians on a daily basis—from access to clean water and air to healthcare reform to student loans to gun control. The New York Times reported this fall that just 158 families have contributed half of the campaign money on the 2016 campaign trail. Where did all that money come from? Primarily the finance and energy industries, particularly oil and gas.
These contributors are not interested in protecting the environment, advocating for social justice or ending gun violence. They are only interested in protecting their sky-high profits.
The one percent is buying their candidates, while making it harder for the 99 percent to even vote in the first place.
Reality 2: Voting Rights
The right to vote is the foundation of democracy. Sadly, certain lawmakers have taken such major steps backwards in voting rights that it is harder for certain groups to vote in 2016 than in it was in 1965.
This will be the first presidential election year in which 15 states have new voting restrictions. These include photo identification requirements, cuts to early voting, and more registration restrictions including the elimination of same day voting registration. Who does this impact? Minorities, the elderly, the poor and students, primarily.
How did all this happen? The catalyst was the gutting of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court in 2013. The Court voted to reverse parts of a crucial 1965 law that required lawmakers in state with a history of discrimination to receive federal permission before changing voting laws. What followed immediately were laws making it harder for underprivileged communities to vote, including birth certificate requirements and lack of voting booths near public transportation.
Congress’s failure to restore voting rights since that decision means means that a huge chunk of people in America—those most impacted by things like climate change and social injustice—are finding it hard to cast their votes at all.
Reality 3: People Power is Changing Everything
If there is anything to take from 2015, it’s that people-power is winning.
From protecting the Arctic from Shell’s offshore drilling plans to the Black Lives Matter movement, people are becoming more active on the issues that they care about. And that is manifesting into real change- albeit sometimes slow given the political realities.
Both Maine and Seattle voters recently made historic strides in passing initiatives that put more power in the hands of the people. Tallahassee, Florida, voters overwhelmingly supported a sweeping set of ethics and campaign finance laws. There have been major victories in voting rights in 16 states, including Maryland, Delaware and Vermont.
No matter where they currently stand, all of the presidential candidates are getting the message from thousands of supporters and nearly 20 organizations that it is time they support a people-powered democracy by saying “no” to fossil fuel money and supporting people’s right to vote.
2016 just became the year we declare a democracy for the people of the 21st century.
Tell the presidential candidates to just say no to fossil fuel money.
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Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.
How to Rock Your Walk<p>Walking isn't just fun and healthy. It's accessible.</p><p>"Walking is cheap," says Dr. John Paul H. Rue, a sports medicine doctor at <a href="https://mdmercy.com/" target="_blank">Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore</a>. "You can do it anywhere at any time; [it] requires little to no special equipment and has many of the same cardio benefits as running or other more intense workouts."</p><p>Want to up your walking game? Try the tips below.</p>
Use Hand Weights<p>Cardio and strength training can go hand-in-hand when you add weights to your walk.</p><p>A <a href="https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2019/03000/Associations_of_Resistance_Exercise_with.14.aspx" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that weight training is good for your heart, and <a href="https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(17)30167-2/abstract" target="_blank">research</a> shows it reduces the risk of developing a <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/nutrition-metabolism-disorders" target="_blank">metabolic disorder</a> by 17 percent. People with metabolic disorders have a higher chance of being diagnosed with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes.</p><p>Rue suggests not carrying weights for your entire walk.</p><p>"Hand weights can give you an added level of energy burning, but you have to be careful with these because carrying [them] over a long period of time or while walking could actually lead to some overuse injuries," he says.</p>
Make It a Circuit<p>As another option, consider doing a circuit. First, put a pair of dumbbells on your lawn or somewhere in your home. Walk around the block once, then stop and do some bicep curls and tricep lifts before walking around the block again.</p><p>Rue recommends <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/exercise-fitness/running-with-weights" target="_blank">avoiding ankle weights</a> during cardio workouts, as they force you to use your quadriceps rather than hamstrings. They can also cause muscle imbalance, according to the <a href="https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/wearable-weights-how-they-can-help-or-hurt" target="_blank">Harvard Health Letter</a>.</p>
Find a Fitness Trail<p>Strength training isn't limited to weights. You can get stronger by <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/bodyweight-workout" target="_blank">simply using your body</a>.</p><p>Often found at parks, fitness trails are obstacle courses with equipment for pullups, pushups, rowing, and stretches to build upper and lower body strength.</p><p>Try searching "fitness trails near me" online, checking out your local parks and recreation website, or calling the municipal office to <a href="https://calisthenics-parks.com/" target="_blank">find one</a>.</p>
Recruit a Friend<p>People who workout together stay healthy together.</p><p><a href="https://bmcgeriatr.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12877-017-0584-3" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that older adults who exercised with a group improved or maintained their functional health and enjoyed their lives more.</p><p>Enlist the help of a walking buddy with a regimen you aspire to have. If you don't know anyone in your area, apps like <a href="https://www.strava.com/" target="_blank">Strava</a> have social networking features so you can get support from fellow exercisers.</p>
Try Meditation<p>According to the <a href="https://www.nccih.nih.gov/research/statistics/nhis/2017" target="_blank">2017 National Health Interview Survey</a>, published by the National Institutes of Health, meditation is on the rise, and for good reason.</p><p>Researchers <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29616846/" target="_blank">found</a> that mind-body relaxation practices can regulate inflammation, <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/biological-rhythms" target="_blank">circadian rhythms</a>, and <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/glucose" target="_blank">glucose</a> metabolism, as well as lower <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/high-blood-pressure-hypertension" target="_blank">blood pressure</a>.</p><p>"Any form of exercise can be turned into a meditation of some type, either by the surroundings you are walking in, like a park or trail, or by blocking out the outside world with music on your headphones," Rue says.</p><p>You can also play a podcast or download an app like <a href="https://www.headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app" target="_blank">Headspace</a> that has a library of guided meditations to practice while you walk.</p>
Do Fartlek Walks<p>Typically used in running, fartlek intervals alternate periods of increased and decreased speed. These are <a href="https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/benefits-of-hiit" target="_blank">high-intensity interval training (HIIT)</a> workouts, which allow exercisers to accomplish more in less time.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0154075" target="_blank">One study</a> showed that 10-minute interval training improved <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/metabolic-syndrome" target="_blank">cardiometabolic</a> health, or lowered the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, just as well as working out at a continuous pace for 50 minutes.</p><p><a href="https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111489" target="_blank">Research</a> also shows that HIIT workouts increase muscle <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fast-twitch-muscles" target="_blank">oxidative</a> capacity, or the ability to use oxygen. To do a fartlek walk, try walking at an increased pace for 3 minutes, slow down for 2 minutes, and repeat.</p>
Gradually Increase Pace<p>A faster walking pace is associated with a lower risk of <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/copd" target="_blank">chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)</a> and respiratory diseases, according to a <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30303933/" target="_blank">2019 study</a>.</p><p>Still, it's best not to go from a stroll to an Olympic-worthy power walk in a day. Instead, increase your pace gradually to prevent injury.</p><p>"Start by walking at a brisk pace for about 10 minutes per day, 3 to 5 days per week," Rue says. "Once you've done this for a few weeks, increase your time by 5 to 10 minutes per day until you get to 30 minutes."</p>
Add Stairs<p>You've likely heard that taking the stairs instead of an elevator is a way to add more movement into your daily routine. It's also a way to step up your walking. Stair climbing has been shown to <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2211335519301123?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">decrease the risk of mortality</a> and can easily add a bit more challenge to your walk.</p><p>If you don't have stairs in your home, you can often find them outside a local municipal building, train station, or at a high school stadium.</p>
Is Your Walk a True Cardio Workout?<p>Not all walks are equal. A walk that's too leisurely may not provide enough burn to qualify as cardio. To see if you're getting a good workout, try to <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-check-heart-rate" target="_blank">measure your heart rate</a> using a monitor.</p><p>"A target goal for a good walking workout heart rate is about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate," Rue says, adding that maximum heart rate is <a href="https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/fat-burning-heart-rate" target="_blank">typically calculated</a> by 220 beats per minute minus your age.</p><p>You can also monitor how easily you can carry on a conversation while you walk to gauge your heart rate.</p><p>"If you can walk and carry on a normal conversation, that's probably a lower intensity walk," says Rue. "If you are slightly breathless but can still have a conversation, that's probably a moderate workout. If you are out of breath and can't talk normally, that's a vigorous workout."</p>
Takeaway<p>By shaking up your routine, you can add excitement to your workout and reap even more rewards than a basic walk provides. Increasing the pace and intensity of a workout will make it more effective.</p><p>Simply pick your favorite variation to add some spice to your next walk.</p>
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