Want a workout that’ll burn calories and give you cardiovascular benefits? Where you won’t need any expensive exercise equipment, and can be done just about anywhere, anytime?
Think walking – fitness walking. Personally, I try to fit walking into my fitness routine several days a week (other days I bicycle). I walk around my neighborhood, at the nearby State Park, or on the treadmill at the health club. Last week I was on vacation in Wisconsin, and enjoyed several walks in this scenic state, including one with my husband and mother. We talked the whole time, which made the time go faster and the walk easier.
I know there are a lot of women who find it hard to fit exercise into their already-busy schedule. However, walking is easy to fit into a schedule. Rise ½ hour earlier and relish the early morning sunshine (or sunrise, as the case may be!) and the time alone. Take a quick walk on your lunch hour, or right after work before the evening “rush hour” begins. Have a baby? Push the baby in a stroller. Have small children that can’t be left home alone? Bring them with you. Granted, you may not be able to walk as fast as when you’re alone, but some exercise is better than none. Besides, you will be an example to your children by showing them that exercise is important, and they’ll relish the time with you.
Although starting a walking program is as easy as walking out the front door, sticking with the program is another matter. It’s easy to get bored or come up with excuses: “It’s raining.” “It’s snowing.” “My walking partner quit.” “My route isn’t interesting anymore.” If the weather is lousy, head for the mall, treadmill, or indoor track. It’s easy to change locations – you can even drive to a different neighborhood and walk there – new scenery, new people. You can also incorporate more walking into your everyday routine by taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking farther away from a store or office entrance.
If you are a newbie to exercise, starting out slowly is best, especially if you’re seriously overweight, have a medical condition, or are recovering from surgery. If this is the case, check with your doctor before starting an exercise program – even walking. It’s probably the safest form of exercise, as there’s little chance of developing shin splints, torn muscles, cartilage or ligaments. “About the only way you can hurt yourself is by tripping on the sidewalk,” says Robert Vaughn, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist at the Tom Landry Sports Medicine and Research Center at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, Texas. “Walking and running,” he continues to say, “both burn approximately 100 calories an hour. Because people can run two miles in the time it takes to walk one mile, they think running is twice as effective. But if they had walked two miles, they would have burned the same amount of calories as if they had run two miles!” Walking is also kinder to your knees, veins, and joints than running, as you won’t get that “jarring” effect.
Start out with some gentle stretches before your workout – this keeps your body flexible, increases your general coordination, and warms your muscles which reduces your chances of injury – then try for a 15-minute walk. Once that feels comfortable, work up to 30 minutes, and finally, up to 45 minutes. In subsequent weeks, you can increase the distance walked in 45 minutes, which will give you a better aerobic workout and increase muscle tone.
Remember to stand up straight and look directly ahead, not down at the ground. Keep your steps short and fast, with your heel being the first part of your foot to hit the ground. Roll along the length of your foot and push off with your toes.
A couple of “do’s and don’ts” to maintain your program:
- DO drink a lot of water – at least eight 8 oz. glasses per day. You may even want to carry a small water bottle with you when walking, especially if it’s a hot day. Also, for every extra 10 pounds you’re overweight, drink another 8 oz. glass of water.
- DON’T use hand or ankle weights. These throw off your natural gait, which can cause muscle strain or injury.
- DO wear comfortable, well-fitting athletic shoes. See my previous article on how to pick the best pair of athletic shoes for yourself (“Put Your Best Foot Forward” – June 22, 1999).
Continue your walking program and you will find yourself with lower blood pressure, more energy, stronger leg muscles, better quality of sleep, reduced stress, and natural weight loss.