8 Walking Benefits
Boost Weight Loss and Muscle Tone
By far, the safest, simplest and most affordable exercise routine found anywhere is power walking, and it’s an art form you can practice every day, both on the treadmill and off of it.
The simple act of placing one foot in front of the other can transform your body composition. Experts say that taking roughly 10,000 steps per day sets off a chain reaction of cardiovascular benefits, including lower blood pressure, enhanced circulation and reduced risk for heart disease and brain disorders.
Even though 10,000 steps might day sound overwhelming, it translates to 4.5 to 5 miles, or one hour of rapid walking. Does the 10,0000 step mark – still feel like a lot of exercise? Try breaking it into shorter segments: three 20-minute errands on foot, or a 30-minute walk before breakfast and another after dinner with the dog.
New national exercise guidelines actually recommend accumulating closer to 15,000 steps per day, or close to 5 miles of moving, leisure activities and walking throughout the day.
In a study of 15,045 walkers in the National Walkers’ Health Study, researchers found that the same amount of energy (calories) is used for moderate- intensity walking and vigorous-intensity running if the distance covered is the same. These activities resulted in similar reductions in the risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease. The name of the game is walk (or run) and sustain it over the long haul for longevity, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
- Try to walk briskly for half an hour every day, or for one very intense hour on four days a week. If you weigh 150 pounds, walking at 3.5 miles an hour on flat terrain burns about 300 calories per hour. So this schedule would burn about 1,100 calories a week (studies show that burning 1,000 to 2,000 calories a week in exercise helps protect against heart disease). If you can’t work that into your schedule, try more frequent, shorter walks.
- Make an effort to walk everywhere, as frequently as possible. Skip elevators and escalators and take the stairs. Leave the car at home if you can walk the mile or two to a friend’s house. Walk to work, at least part of the way. And make your lunch hour a power-hour walking workout, and grab your office mates for motivation. There are even options that let you walk and work productively while reading or using a computer. Investigate these new treadmill desks for your office. A very moderate two miles-per-hour pace will not hamper your ability to get work done but you will burn through your 10-15,000 steps before you know it.
- Try another approach: Buy a heart rate monitor or a pedometer and see how many steps you take a day, aiming for 10,000 for general health and 15,000 steps for improved cardiovascular health and potential weight loss, according to guidelines from the American Heart Association.
- Add interval training. Speed up for a minute or two every five minutes on your treadmill walk, or alternate walking one fast mile with two slower miles. You can stride up steep hills on your treadmill for one minute, then switch to walking lunges across a gym floor for a couple of sets, followed by two minutes of moderate paced walking. There are a million different ways to jumpstart your walking intervals to sidestep boredom. Walking never again has to be a boring exercise!
- Choose varied terrain. Walking on grass or gravel burns more calories than walking on a track, for example. Walking on a treadmill is easier on the joints of your body, but you can also try warming up with jumping rope to get your heart rate racing, or you can do most of your walking on soft sand (or try walking barefoot in a safe environment) to increase your calorie burn.
- Walk up and down hills on your treadmill to build strength and stamina and burn more calories. Combine hill walking with your regular flat-terrain walking on a manual program to tap into the increasingly popular, high interval training or “HIIT”. When walking uphill, lean forward slightly — it’s easier on your leg muscles. Walking downhill can be harder on your body, especially the knees, and may cause muscle soreness, so slow your pace and keep your knees slightly bent. In addition, take shorter steps to relive strain on the joints.
- Try Nordic poles. A pair of sturdy steel or wooden walking sticks is helpful for balance, especially for older people. To enhance your upper-body workout while you walk outside, try using these lightweight, rubber-tipped trekking poles that are sold in many sporting-goods stores. (It’s like cross-country skiing without the skis!) When you step forward with your left foot, plant the right-hand pole about even with the heel of the left foot. This works the muscles of your chest and arms as well as some abdominals, while reducing the stress on your knees. Find the right size poles by testing them in the store: You should be able to grip the pole and keep your forearm about level as you walk. Many poles are adjustable.
- Use hand weights, but carefully. Hand weights can boost your caloric expenditure, but they may alter your arm swing and thus lead to muscle soreness or even injury. They’re generally not recommended for people with high blood pressure or heart disease. If you want to start walking on the treadmill or outside with weights, use one-pound weights initially, and increase the weight gradually. Always skip wearing any kind of ankle weights while you walk – using those may cause shin splints and other foot and ankle injuries down the road.
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