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Low-Impact Walking Workout Makes A Big Impact

From eDiets - The online diet, fitness, and healthy living resource

If you thought that an apple a day was good for you, how about this: A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine reveals that a walk a day can help you live longer!

Low Impact Workout The study involved more than 6,200 American men who underwent treadmill testing for cardiovascular disease. The conclusion: the least fit were four and a half times more likely to die six years sooner than the most fit!

Fitness also mattered more in predicting how long a person would live than other risk factors (including smoking, high blood pressure and weight). This does not mean you are better off being fat and fit than skinny and sedentary, but exercise can be a protective factor in individuals with other health risk factors.

Overall, if you are unfit, becoming more physically active can significantly improve your survival. And exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous to improve health and longevity. A simple walk a day can make a huge difference.

Just check out some of the health benefits you can reap from a regular brisk walk:

  • Reduced risk of heart disease
  • Decreased risk for type 2 diabetes
  • Lowered risk of breast and colon cancer
  • Reduced risk of stroke
  • Improved blood pressure control
  • Reduced LDL (the so-called bad cholesterol) and raised HDL (the "good" cholesterol)
  • Maintained bone density to prevent osteoporosis
  • Enhanced mental well-being and lowered stress levels
  • 200 calories burned per half hour
  • Toned muscle, improved cardiovascular conditioning and boosted stamina

    How Fast and How Much is Recommended?

    The secret, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and the Surgeon General, is walking at a pace of 3 to 5 miles an hour (that's a mile in 20 minutes or less) for 3 to 7 hours a week. Although for most people it is just a purposeful stroll, only 1 in 5 Americans achieve this bare minimum for good health.

    So, if you thought that walking was not worth it unless it was vigorous or if you were intimated by the idea that only heavy workouts are beneficial -- or even if you are just a couch potato -- this should be a powerful incentive for you to start getting active.

    Where to Start?

    The great thing about walking is its flexibility. Walking is one of the few things that can be done with anyone (including babies, husbands and co-workers). It's cheaper than a gym membership, more fun than a stationary bike, more convenient than swimming, and easier on the muscles and joints than running. You can head out the door to the mall or park, take the stairs daily as opposed to the elevator, or just hop onto a treadmill to rack up healthy walking time.

    What to Wear?

  • Your shoes are your walking tools so they need to fit well and be comfortable. A well-fitting pair of running shoes is the best answer for most walkers.
  • Ensure socks are made from CoolMax or other high-tech fibers rather than cotton as they prevent blisters by keeping the feet drier.
  • Clothing should be comfortable and loose fitting to allow you to move. It can be as simple as a t-shirt, light sweater and windproof jacket.
  • If you sweat a lot invest in CoolMax or polypropylene shirts to keep the sweat away from the body.
  • Carry water if you plan to be walking for a half hour or more (with no water stops on your route). A hip pack with built-in water bottle holder is convenient.
  • Take along music or perhaps a book on tape to keep you motivated.

    How to Walk for Maximum Benefit

    The walking technique for the street, track, or treadmill is the same.

  • Stand up tall/straight, shoulders back and ensure abdominal muscles are tight.
  • Remember to keep your elbows at your side with your arms falling between your sternum (chest bone) and your hips. Pump your arms to get your heart rate up. This will help to burn more calories.
  • You should be able to talk, but not sing and if you are panting you are working too hard.
  • Leave the ankle and wrist weights at home. They increase your risk of straining joints and muscles.

    Getting Going for Beginners

    It is always best to start slowly and progress gradually rather than doing too much, too soon and giving up because it feels too hard. It is not a quick fix. You should be thinking of this as a long-term lifestyle change. It will take a few weeks to get into a routine, but you will soon feel the benefits.

    Lifestyle walking is considered the first level of walking to reap long-term health benefits and lower your risk of heart disease. You should aim to be working at 50 to 60 percent of maximum heart rate (MRH) for 30 minutes or a pace of 3 miles per hour (a mile in 20 minutes) for 5 days a week by the end of the 4 weeks. Using a pedometer or heart rate monitor will ensure you are working out at the right pace so that you can improve your fitness level.

    Week 1: Start with a daily 15-minute walk at an easy pace. Aim to walk for 5 days in the first week to build up a habit. Spread out your rest days, such as making Day 3 a rest day and Day 6 a rest day. Breaks are important to help you rejuvenate and recover. Fatigue will only lead to injuries and can put a damper on your motivation
    Weekly total goal: 60 to 75 minutes.

    Week 2: Add 5 minutes a day so you are walking 20 minutes, 5 days a week. Or you may wish to extend yourself more on some days, followed by a rest day.
    Weekly total goal: 75 to 100 minutes.

    Week 3: Add 5 minutes a day so you are walking 25 minutes, 5 days a week.
    Weekly total goal: 100 to 125 minutes. Include a hill or set of stairs in your walk for an extra challenge.

    Week 4: Add 5 minutes a day to walk 30 minutes, 5 days a week.
    Weekly total goal: 125 to 150 minutes.

  • There is no problem with repeating a week, if you find it difficult keeping up with the pace.
  • If you are feeling good about your progress you can increase the time that you walk each session so you meet the goal of 150 minutes in less than 4 weeks.
  • For weight loss you will need to pick up the pace to about 4 miles per hour (15 minutes per mile), 60 to 70 percent of MHR. Do this only when you have reached the initial goal of at 50 to 60 percent of maximum heart rate (MRH) for 30 minutes or a pace of 3 miles per hour (a mile in 20 min) for 5 days a week.

    General Tips

  • Remember to warm up and stretch your legs and lower back muscles before and after your walk.
  • Use a fitness diary to check off each day you walk and jot down a word or two describing how you felt while walking, as well as any other pertinent information such as your weight, you heart rate and any hills you tackle. This is a good way to monitor your progress and keep you motivated.
  • If heading outdoors, power up with poles for a whole-body workout similar to cross-country skiing and burn 20 to 50 percent more calories per mile than walking without poles.
  • Join a walking club. It can encourage you to go further than you would on your own. American Volkssport Association (www.ava.org) is a network of over 450 clubs and hosts more than 3,000 walking events. All walks are open to the public and some are free so you do not need to join a club.
  • For additional information Fitness Walking for Dummies by Liz Neporent ($17.99 from www.shopbarnesandnoble.com) guides you through the steps to becoming a better fitness walker.

    Note: As with all activity, if you have been sedentary for more than a year or are seeing a doctor for a medical condition, you should contact them for a check-up or consultation before you begin your walking program.

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