Walking has long been called the perfect exercise. The growing consensus among experts is that walking is the best and safest exercise for people of any age. Except for a disability that specifically prevents walking, people in almost any condition, age, or state of health can walk. The American Heart Association says that walking briskly is one of the simplest and best forms of exercise.
Walking feels good while you are doing it. It’s as natural as breathing! It has the lowest dropout rate of any form of activity, particularly if you have a compatible walking partner. If you are look for fitness without sacrifice, start walking. Walking outdoors give the added therapeutic benefit of fresh air and sunshine.
If You Can Walk…
You can walk anywhere without special equipment other than good shoes. To experience the immediate benefits of walking, walk out your front door for five to ten minutes; turn around and walk back home. Walk slowly for the first three to five minutes to warm up your muscles. This warm-up is especially important as you get older. After warming up, don’t stroll. Pick up your pace until you are walking rapidly, with a goal to work up to at least three to four miles in an hour.
Brisk walking is the key to success. (Read more about the benefits of walking briskly.) Many people don’t walk fast enough or long enough to really burn fat effectively and then wonder why they aren’t making progress. As you body condition improves, you must exercise harder or longer to really get results. Get your heart rate into your target zone and keep it there for 25 to 30 minutes, with a goal to work up to 45 to 60 minutes daily.
Listen To Your Body
Learn to listen to your body as you compete with yourself — walk a little farther and a little faster each day, but never to the point of stress. An inexpensive sports watch with a chronograph (stop watch feature) helps track your progress. As your fitness level increases you may want to alternate jogging and walking to keep your heart rate up. As you finish, slow down to a leisurely walk for the last three to five minutes to let your body functions slow back down to normal. This cool-down is important.
Use affirmations as you walk. Here are a few suggestions to get you started. With every step, tell your body, “Fat burn, fat burn, fat burn all day” and “Every day in every way, I’m getting leaner, and leaner, and leaner.” If you have trouble keeping up your speed, tell yourself, “Faster, faster, faster.” As you deep breathe in and out, think, “Life’s pure energy in, stress and tension out.” Let your mind help your body get leaner, stronger and healthier. Believe it and you will soon achieve it!
Walk With Style!
Practice good posture as you walk or jog. Stand up straight with your shoulders back, head level, and stomach tucked in. Hold your arms slightly away from the body with a ninety-degree bend at the elbow. Swing your arms naturally with your hands held about waist high. This posture builds a natural momentum and also helps eliminate the swollen hands many walkers complain about.
To increase walking speed, lengthen your stride. Tilt your weight slightly to the back. To help propel you forward, use lots of arm movement. Notice how your arms swing to counter-balance your feet. When your right foot swings forward, your left arm swings with it. Keep your arms bent at a ninety-degree and let them swing from the shoulder blades, forward across your body to about the center of your chest. You’ll be surprised at how fast and effortlessly you can walk. Don’t forget to breathe deeply! If you prefer to jog, take shorter steps. Make it a low, smooth, rolling jog. To avoid injury, land on the bottom, not on the ball or front part of your foot.
Good Shoes Are a Must!
I am a fanatic about the importance of wearing good walking shoes. Too many people have foot and knee problems when they try to walk or jog in the wrong shoes. Get running or walking shoes, not aerobic, court, or any other type. Buy the best and the most comfortable shoes you can afford to support and cushion your feet. Good shoes are worth the investment.
You may also want to add an insole for extra comfort, I like the heel and arch support insole instead of a full shoe insole.
You will cover hundreds of miles in those shoes, so select them carefully and replace them before they get too worn. Changing shoes changes the pressure points and rests the feet. Alter the weight and type of absorbent socks to help reduce foot fatigue.
Protect Your Body
In cold or windy weather, dress in several layers of light clothing to increase insulation. It’s easy to peel off a layer if you become too warm. A windbreaker is a good investment, but any zippered jacket or sweatshirt allows you to adjust the heat of your body. Protect you hands with gloves, and use ear muffs or a warm hat to cover your ears. A towel or scarf around your neck prevents the cold from creeping in. If you keep your head, ears, and neck warm, you will rarely get chilled in cold weather.
In hot weather, wear light-colored clothing to reflect the heat of the sun. Choose loose-fitting clothes which do not bind and will breathe. Choose to wear a hat to guard against heat stroke and shade your eyes with sunglasses.
Avoid outdoor exercise when there is heavy smog or air pollution. These conditions are hazardous to your health. Stay upwind or away from busy roads to avoid the carbon monoxide from cars. Always exercise in the cleanest air available. You may be able to find a mall nearby to walk indoors, that can be a good alternative.
Don’t Take Chances
Have a walking companion if possible — spouse, friend, or dog. Walk facing traffic so that you know what is coming. Choose a safe route and alter it occasionally. Stay away from dark or deserted places. Avoid anyone or any place that makes you feel uneasy. If necessary, scream for help and run!
Anyone who walks, knows about dogs — they can be a real problem. Avoid them if possible. My favorite route takes me past big dogs and little dogs. At first, they barked and chased me. I soon discovered that dogs are a lot like people; they like to be acknowledged and receive a kind word. I wasn’t overly friendly, just cordial. A simple “Good morning, how are you today?” began to change their attitude. After a week or two, they decided I was a friend and they could ignore me. Be advised that this approach doesn’t always work, dogs can be dangerous.
It is a good idea to always carry a walking stick, besides the many benefits of better walking techniques (read more here about using walking sticks), your stick can also be used for protection.
We all live in a stressful world. Exercise is an excellent natural remedy for stress. Taking a walk regularly helps you feel refreshed and energized by reducing anxiety, tension, and depression. Just getting away from your problems for an hour of daily exercise is most beneficial. You have time to think and will return home with a more positive perspective and a greater sense of well-being. Taking a walk can help you stay in control of your life.
You’ll also develop a calmer, more relaxed attitude toward daily pressures because of the endorphin release from exercise. Endorphins are small morphine-like chemicals that are secreted in the brain as a result of endurance exercise. Endorphins are nature’s tranquilizer!
Exercise makes you feel soooo good — but you must experience this feeling yourself to know what I mean!