If you’re looking for a low impact activity to help you improve or maintain your cardiorespiratory fitness, walking might be right for you.
For people just getting into fitness or back at it from a long hiatus, walking is an easy way to get started as it does not require an advanced skill, and it can be done just about anywhere. In fact, walking is the most popular physical fitness or leisure activity performed by adults in the United States and in Canada (Ref: 1 & 2). We’re betting that this statistic is also true for other countries because walking is such a natural form of movement for human beings.
Walking is good exercise and like any other moderate to intense physical activity, it can provide tons of health benefits. If improving your fitness level isn’t enough to persuade you to start walking, let the following list spur you on. Walking may help:
- Prevent Diabetes
- Strengthen your heart
- Maintain brain health
- Promote strong bones, especially for women who are postmenopausal
- Alleviate depression
- Reduce various types of cancer, in particular colon and breast
- Improve day to day functioning, especially as you age
- Control weight
- Improve sleep
- Increase energy
- Relieve stress
- Increase chances of living longer
Various studies and research support the above benefits. If you want to learn more, one of the sources you can refer to is a report prepared by the Advisory Committee that provided the scientific foundation for the guidelines developed in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2008 Report.
Know the Facts
To get the most benefits and pleasure out of walking, understand the basics about walking.
Calories burned – The number of calories burned while walking depends on your weight, and how far and how fast you walk. Logically, the further you walk and the faster, you’ll burn more calories. Your weight also affects calories burned because a body that is heavier expends more energy for its normal functioning, even at rest. If you want to calculate how many calories you are burning while walking, try these online calculators:
Weight loss goal – If you want to take up walking to lose weight, keep in mind that you need to focus on expending more calories than what you are taking in with food. A healthy way to achieve this goal is to increase your walking time/effort and manage your food intake. Research by The National Weight Control Registry has shown that people who continue to engage in regular activity after significant weight loss are better able to maintain long-term weight loss.
Staying injury free – Although you don’t need much equipment to walk, avoid injuries from walking by choosing appropriate walking shoes. Your local sports store will have several options available. A specialty shop like The Walking Store or Running Room will also be able to assess your foot for high arch or pronation to fit a shoe that will be most comfortable for you.
Proper stride and foot strike – Besides having good shoes, avoid injuries and get more enjoyment by practicing a proper walking form:
- Stand tall and look forward when walking.
- Step forward and land on your heel, roll forward on the ball of your foot.
- Complete the step by pushing off your big toe.
- Use your arms (at 90 degree bend in elbow) to propel you forward. Keep elbows tucked into sides and move arms forward without crossing hands.
- Be sure to keep your strides to a normal, comfortable length. Making your strides longer to be faster will produce inappropriate form which may cause injury.
Get Going, Stay Motivated
Have trouble getting started? Here are some ideas to get you motivated:
Get a pedometer to measure the number of steps you take during your walk or better still wear it all day to see how many steps you take during your day. Those steps add up to calories burned!
If you’re a techie type, get an app to keep all kinds of statistics about your walk. For example, MapMyWalk works with your phone’s GPS to record your activity. If you’re looking for even more data, then you might consider buying a fitbit, Garmin GPS, Polar heart rate, or other fitness device.
Make it interesting by finding different routes for your walk. Look for places with great sights like the ocean, boardwalk, forest, parks, interesting shops. Vary the terrain and elevation by walking hilly roads, hiking on trails, using a treadmill, doing loops at a nearby football field. Change up your walking route often to embrace a sense of adventure.
Walk in 10 or 15 minute time frames throughout your day if you don’t have time to walk for a continuous 30 to 60 minutes. You are still getting the benefits of walking when done at separate times. Work around your schedule and appreciate the walk breaks as great de-stressors!
Increase intensity by doing walk intervals if you are aiming for a higher calorie burn or faster walking pace. Slowly increase your walking capacity by building in a few intervals in your daily walk. To do this, walk at your normal pace for 3 minutes, then pick up your pace for 1 minutes and then go back to your normal pace for another 3 minutes. Repeat this pattern 5 to 10 times, depending on the length of your walk. Practicing intervals slowly improves your body’s endurance to walk faster and go farther.
Take the kids along. If you have young kids, taking care of them can sometimes get in the way of your physical activity goals. Invest in a good running/walking stroller and get walking. As the kids grow, they can walk along with you part of the way until they are old enough to keep up with your pace or ride a bike along your side. As your kids get older, you can also walk around a playground where your kids can play and be within sight. There are several companies in the US that offer walking programs for moms such as Stroller Strides, StrollFit to name a couple. Within Canada, local community centres and malls offer walking clubs including stroller walks such as http://yorknorth.cioc.ca/record/NKT0371.
Sign up for a charity walk or a walking marathon if you need a goal to keep you going. Many marathons have a separate category for walkers. To be ready for the big day, you will need to build up your walking distance so this type of goal may motivate you to keep walking. To stay healthy and injury free, create a plan to race day. Start slowly, increasing your distance and pace every 2 to 3 weeks. If you want to compete, you can also consider learning to race walk. It’s a sport all on its own!
Are you intrigued yet? We encourage you to learn more about how you can integrate walking into your healthy lifestyle. Start today with a walk around the block!
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