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Walk Your Way To Health And Fitness

May 17, 2008
In the throes of a hectic law career, I had become a workaholic. Then Tim, an old high-school friend, persuaded me to take a break. Together we planned a 250-mile walk down the New Jersey and Delaware coasts

On Day 4 of the expedition, I called my office and announced that I was going to extend my vacation a few more days. "you sound like a different person," my secretary said. By day 7 of the walk a remarkable strength and vigor had come over me.

Tim, meanwhile, was undergoing a dramatic transformation of his own. He was a chain smoker and normally went through two or three packs a day. As we increased our daily walking distance from 18 to 25 miles, however, he smoked fewer cigarettes, and before long he replaced the smoking habit with walking habit.

What happened to the two of us is an example of what I call the natural powers of walking. By merely increasing the amount of daily walking without regard to technique or exercise regimen you can benefit greatly.

Walking is the most efficient exercise for improving overall fitness. It uses more muscles in a continuous, uniform action than most other forms of exercise, and it remains accessible to you throughout life. It is often used as an integral part of medical programs to prevent heart-related diseases and to rehabilitate those already stricken with heart trouble.

If your walking muscles atrophy, your whole body atrophies. So you might as well Rive walking your fullest attention; it's the best life-insurance policy you can get. The first step is to find the walking routine that is best suited to you. (If you are over 40, are on any medication, or have a history of heart problems, check with your doctor before beginning a walking exercise program.)

Strolling. Perhaps the slowest form of walking, it's rated at one mile per hour. This is nothing to sneeze at, since strolling of hours an miles can add up to significant work. An after-dinner stroll could stretch to two hours or two miles, while a Sunday stroll could stretch to three or four hours. Even walking the dog for 20 minutes a day can add another mile or so a week.

Strolling is valuable as exercise because repetitious movement of the body's walking-muscle groups aid circulation and burn off calories, albeit at a slow rate. But don't base your whole exercise program on strolling. It's not vigorous, so it has the effect of a limbering up exercise rather than that of training.

Normal walking. You do this without being conscious of your speed. It's not walking for a practical purpose. It is characterized by an average speed of three m.p.h Like strolling, normal walking can be enhanced as an exercise simply by doing more of it.

One of the best and most common ways to accomplish this is to walk to work. Counting time spent waiting for buses and trains, many people can get to work faster by walking than by taking mass transportation. At work, take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator. Walk to visit your co-workers instead of calling them on the phone. During you coffee break, take a walk and stretch your legs.

Walks are also recommended before and after meals, even if it's for only 15 minutes. Walking before a meal can actually depress your appetite and thus be an important factor in controlling your weight.

Walking is also becoming an increasingly popular way to see the sights while traveling. Many guidebooks of major tourist areas now show walking routes and estimate how long a particular tour will take. Walking is just the right speed for exploring, learning, getting impressions, meeting people. It can even stimulate the thinking processes by increasing the oxygen supply to the brain.

Aerobic walking. This is any style of walking done with a speed, duration or effort to exercise the heart. Heart/lung exercise consists of sustained rapid breathing while moving your arms and legs for a least 15 minutes and ideally as long as 30 minutes, three times a week. Your training goal is to rise your heartbeat to 70-85 percent of its maximum.

Most forms of walking can be converted to aerobic exercise by maintaining a brisk pace, climbing an incline or mountain, or walking with a backpack.

Depending on your level of conditioning, different walking styles, speeds and durations will help you train aerobically. When you are in poor physical condition, a speed of three m.p.h. for 15 to 30 minutes may bring your heart into the training target zone. A walker in excellent condition may require a speed of four to five m.p.h for 3o to 60 minutes to reach his training target zone.

Is a chart of target heart -rate ranges for age groups. Each range represents the heart- beats per minute that will produce a training effect if maintained for at least 15 minutes during any exercise period.

Measure your heart rate while walking. If you can't take your pulse while moving, stop in the middle of your walking period and do it. (Wait until you have been moving around for at least ten minutes.) Measure your pulse rate for ten seconds and then multiply the number of beats by six to obtain the number of heartbeats per minute.

If your heartbeats is below the training zone, you can speed up or extend your walking period until you reach the training zone. As you become more physically fit, the speed and duration must be increased for you to continue making progress. Otherwise, you would merely maintain the level of fitness that you have achieved.

Long-distance walking. There are now many long-distance routes mapped out and illustrated in guidebooks. But before you prepare to take such a walk you should have a checkup and do a number of test walks to determine your pace, endurance and equipment requirements.

Not everyone can match Edward Payson Weston, known as the father of American walking. He introduced and publicized its health and fitness benefits with crowd-pleasing long-distance walks, beginning in 1861 when he walked form Boston to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln. In 1913, at the age of 74, he walked from New York City to Minneapolis in 60 days. Weston Believed that walking could actually make a person "improve with age and never go stale." He lived to age 90.
About the Author
Jack Vallieres is the professional freelance writer. He's also the webmaster of Fitness2home.com
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