Walking Your Way to Ultimate Health by Lisa Smith-Batchen
The mistake most of us make when starting an exercise program is this: too much, too fast. And then we burn out and stop exercising. Small steps lead to big steps. Literally.
One of the best modes of exercise available to everyone is walking. Walking can be done anywhere, anytime. You don’t need a gym or any equipment except a good pair of shoes. It provides just as much of a workout as running and takes away the risk of injury that can occur with running.
I have been walking as a supplement to my running for years. I can now walk 5.5 mph, and I love it.
Autumn is a great time to start your walking program. The brilliant colors give you plenty to look at and the crisp air prevents you from overheating and is easier to inhale than the muggy, humid air of summer.
Before beginning your walking program make sure you have proper walking shoes. I cannot emphasize this enough. Having the correct shoes will prevent the aches and pains associated with improper shoes. Have a knowledgeable salesperson work with you on what pair best fits your feet. The shoes need to have moderate cushioning and room in the toe box.
Now, when I say walk, I mean WALK. I don’t want you to walk as if you were slowly browsing about in the mall—I want you to put some muscle into it. The larger the muscle mass you involve with each stride, the greater the health benefits, including weight loss.
Start extending a backward force against the ground the instant your heel touches down. Think of pulling the ground under your body with your leg. This action involves the back of the thigh (hamstring) and the buttocks (gluteals). Together, these muscles are up to five times bigger than your calf muscles. End each stride with a push-off as you normally would.
Your hips are also a big part of walking. Reach forward with the hip of the leg that is coming forward for the new stride. By doing this you will work your abdominals, lower back muscles and the gluteals.
Throughout your walk focus on something that is 20-30 feet in front of you—a lamppost, tree, mailbox. Keep your eyes level, walk smooth and don’t bounce. Be sure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and always stretch after each walking session.
Walking is the best way to start your running program. If you are interested in introducing running into your exercise regimen, then walking (not strolling) is the perfect way to do so. In addition, it doesn’t matter where you live, what season it is (snowshoes or Yaxtrax® make it easy to get around in winter), or whether you are at home or travelling—you can walk anywhere! Many people, including myself, walk during each running training session and even during a race.
The benefits to your body include better fat metabolism, improved glucose tolerance, a lower resting heart rate, and reduced stress. Walking up and down hills works every muscle in the body and will give you a very good aerobic workout.
How do I get started?
Start any exercise program gradually and only three to four days a week. Start with a 15-20 minute walk and add 10 minutes to each session each week. Forty-five minutes to one hour is the ideal workout length for weight loss and health benefits.
As you increase your workout time, also increase your speed. If you feel slightly out of breath throughout the workout then you know that you are in a heart rate working zone. If you can hold a conversation for the entire walking session then you need to pick up the pace! You should only be able to talk in phrases, not complete sentences.
Example of a beginner’s walking week
Monday: 20 minutes of walking. For the first ten minutes walk at a good pace. For the remaining ten minutes walk one minute as fast as you can, then one minute slowly. Repeat until the ten minutes is up.
Wednesday: repeat Monday’s workout.
Friday: 25 minutes at a good steady pace.
Saturday: 20 minute walk. Go slowly for 5 minutes then walk two minutes as fast as you can, followed by three minutes at a good pace. Keep this pattern up for the remainder of the walk.
No excuses—get out there and enjoy the foliage of fall and brisk, breathy conversation with a walking buddy.