Walking is a wonderful way to get in shape. While one of every three joggers will be injured this year, walkers receive almost all the same benefits, but without the wear and tear and injury rates.
Walking is great for:
- Weight loss – You can lose up to 14 pounds in a year by walking just 40 minutes a day (maybe even more, since regular walking boosts your metabolism 24 hours a day). In addition to burning calories, regular walking helps control your appetite. Losing fat as you gain lean muscle mass means that even if your weight does not go down (muscle weighs more than fat), you will lose inches.
- Walking with others is a great way to maintain motivation Your physical health – If you walk for at least a half hour three times a week, the aerobic workout will benefit your cardiovascular system – your heart and lungs. Walking can also reduce your cholesterol level, help build strong bones (especially important for post-menopausal women at risk of osteoporosis) and offer protection against adult onset diabetes. Walking also promotes regularity, which contributes to making you feel more energetic. A regular walking program also helps with arthritis, by keeping joints flexible.
- Your mental health – A daily walk can help you get a much-needed mental break from the stresses and strains of the day. Walking also produces endorphins, those brain chemicals that can help stave off depression.
- Your longevity – Research confirms that people who walk 20 to 25 miles a week outlive their sedentary peers by several years. Good news as well is that you are likely to spend those extra years in far better shape.
A few basics
Walking is easy, another one of its virtues. But there are still things you need to know beyond left-right-left-right-left-right:
- Guard your health – As with any new exercise program, check with your doctor first, particularly if you are older.
- How far, how often? – You are indeed an experiment of one. Just because your friend is able to walk a mile at a good clip immediately does not mean that you should. This isn’t a race – in fact, the quickest way to burn out is to try to do too much too soon. Most experts suggest starting a program by walking at least five times a week for 15 minutes at an easy pace. Add five minutes to your daily walk each succeeding week until you are regularly walking a half hour a day five times a week. Repeat a week anytime you find yourself feeling tired. Once you achieve this basic level of fitness, you can begin thinking in terms of weekly workouts, varying your distance and terrain (hills require more effort). Remember that your goal is to avoid burnout – better to do less and have fun than to push too hard and give up.
- How fast? – A good way to make sure you aren’t pushing too hard is the talking test – make sure you can carry on a normal conversation without struggling for breath. You can also target the heart rate you want to achieve, as a percentage of your maximum heart rate.
NOTE: To calculate your current heart rate during exercise, stop and place two fingers on an artery in the side of your neck and use a watch to count the pulses in six seconds. Then multiply by 10 (add a zero) to find the number of beats per minute (60 seconds)
The chart below offers a general guideline for men and women (age adjusted) for their Approximate Maximum Heartrate (beats per minute). Again, your doctor can order tests that can calculate these rates accurately for you and these are offered only as general guidelines.
|Estimated Maximum Heartrate (beats per minute – bpm)|
IMPORTANT – The goal is NOT to work out at 100% your maximum heart rate. To improve your cardiac fitness, you should work out at 50% to 60% of your max heart rate – your Heart Healthy Rate. At 60% to 70%, your Fitness Zone, you will burn more calories and push your cardio-respiratory system even more. The Aerobic Zone, 80% to 90% of your maximum heart rate, is best reserved for those who are training for an endurance event.
Training at higher rates means you are burning more oxygen than you are taking in (anaerobic). This causes painful lactic acid to build up in your muscles. That pain is also a warning signal that you are in danger of redlining. Remember that losing weight and getting fit are long-term goals. Pushing hard to burn a few more calories today is much more likely to cause problems than to help you achieve your goals.
- Don’t ignore warmups and cooldowns – You should spend at least five minutes before your walk warming up and five minutes afterward cooling down. Stretching can be part of your routine, but remember never to push the stretch.
- Check your form – Good posture is important. Stand straight, don’t lean back and don’t arch your back (tuck in your buns and suck in your tummy). Avoid looking at your toes, but instead focus on a spot ahead of you so that your head stays level. Swing your arms naturally and don’t clench your fists. Find a comfortable stride, remembering that it is better to take more, smaller steps than to strain to take a longer stride. Consciously relax your shoulders now and then – as you tire, you may find yourself tightening up.
- Invest in good shoes – There is no one right shoe for everyone. Some people enjoy sturdy and stable feet, while others pronate (ankles bend inward) or supinate (ankles bend outward). Heavier people and people with flat feet often pronate and a shoe that features good motion control can help. Visit a specialty athletic or running store and tell them your plans. Also bring along an old pair of shoes so that they can see the wear pattern. It can be tempting to buy a cool pair of hiking boots, but these are often a poor choice because they lack arch support, cushion and stability.
- Keep your water bottle handy – Drink at least 8 oz. of water a half hour before your walk, more on hot days. Remember that by the time you feel thirsty, you are already too low on fluids. Keep drinking from your water bottle as you walk and rehydrate again when you are done.
- Dress in layers – You will heat up as you walk and temperatures can change suddenly, so your best bet is to dress in layers do you can pare down and add on as needed. For cold days, consider investing in undergarments made of fibers that do a good job of wicking sweat away from your body, to avoid getting a chill. You may also want to put a scarf in front of your mouth on the very coldest, subzero days, but you will be surprised to find that, as you become more and more fit, you will be better able to tolerate greater swings in temperature.
- Don’t forget safety – Follow the rule about walking against traffic (walk on the left side of the road so cars are coming at you). Particularly if you walk alone, you should also consider carrying a cellphone so that you can call for help, if needed. Many people carry pepper spray or Mace, if local laws allow. These products can be effective if you run into a dangerous dog (or a dangerous human). Carrying a stick through areas where dogs frequently roam free can also be a good idea. Women, particularly those who walk alone, will want to vary their routes and the times that they walk. Listening to music on headphones may seem like a great way to pass the time, but it can also rob you of hearing an approaching car or person. Pay attention to your instincts – if something or someone seems suspicious, plan your escape and go for it. It is better to feel embarrassed later, if it turns out to be nothing, than to be attacked.
- Chart your progress – Keeping a log is a great way to stay motivated. In addition to listing your distance and times, add in a few comments about the weather and the conditions, as well as about how you feel. The log can become a rich resource to look back on.
- Expand your horizons – Join a walking club or the group at the mall. Find scenic routes in the area. Invite new friends to join you. You don’t want this wonderful activity to grow stale, so explore new ways to make the experience fresh.