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Fitness and Facts



Walking Exercise


Is walking good :

No question about it. Walking firms up muscles and raises the heart rate, just like any other aerobic exercise. It strengthens cardiovascular and respiratory systems, reducing your risk of heart disease. Walkers also get the mental boost regular exercise provides, reducing both stress and your risk of depression. In fact, research has demonstrated that walking workouts can combat health problems as varied as osteoporosis, high blood pressure, and diabetes; they can also ease arthritis symptoms and chronic back pain.

To start :

All the steps you take throughout the day add up to about 1,500 miles a year. No wonder people of all ages and fitness levels turn to walking for an enjoyable low-impact workout.

But now that you are making it official, get a good pair of walking shoes. That means a flexible sole that bends at the ball of your foot (not the arch), nice padding on the inner sole, suitable arch support (a knowledgeable salesperson can help you with this), a beveled or rounded low heel, and breathable (e.g., leather or nylon) uppers.

A good walking technique :

The secret to a good stride is good posture as back straight, shoulders relaxed. Keep your head up and your eyes focused ahead, not on the ground in front of you; looking down leads to hunched shoulders, constricted breathing, and a sore back. Also, bend your arms at roughly a 90-degree angle and swing them in a comfortable, pendulum-like motion from the shoulders. Don't let your hands drop below waist level, and don't swing your arms across or above your chest.

Lean forward a little from the ankles not the waist to pick up speed. Aim for quick, short steps rather than a lengthy stride. This adds power to your walk by allowing your back foot to propel you forward.

How often and how far should we can walk :

That depends on what you want. You could simply build on the walking you already do by parking your car at the far end of the lot at the store or at work, for example, and by taking the stairs instead of the elevator. Throw in some brisk ten-minute strolls at lunch, and the cumulative effect will not only protect you against disease but melt away a few pounds.

If you want more results, begin with a program of ten- to 30-minute walks (pick a length of time that you can comfortably complete), three or four times a week. Stride at a pace that has you breathing hard but still able to carry on a conversation. Each week add a minute or two to each work-out, building up to walks between 20 to 45 minutes. Or see if you can do a few extra blocks in the same 20 to 30 minutes. If you've set your sights on weight loss, aim for 45-minute sessions, five to six days a week.

Stride easy for the first five minutes or so to give your muscles a chance to warm up. As you finish a walk, cool down by slowing your pace for the last two to three minutes; then stretch your calves, hips, and the front and back of your thighs.

By the way, walking with friends (or walking your dog, for that matter) is a great way to stay motivated. Remember, too, that you don't have to walk the same route or distance each time. By varying the pace, mileage, and landscape, you'll keep it fun.

Don't use any hand weights. You will see striders carrying dumbbells to increase the rigor of their workout. Studies show that the weights barely raise heart rate and don't add strength. If you want to build strength -- an excellent idea -- start a weight-training program. If you want a more demanding walk that burns more calories, take longer walks or climb more hills.


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