Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Revisiting Walking

When starting a weight loss program one of the things that makes most people cringe is the thought of starting an exercise program.  Let’s face it, as I have discussed here many times before – the math is easy – calories burned need to exceed calories consumed.  If you take in more calories than you put out you gain weight.  Simple!

When starting an exercise program many people start off fast and furious, then when the muscle aches and joint pains start – they ease off (or totally give up) and it derails all their best intentions.  When it comes to exercise for weight loss slow and steady far outdoes fast and furious.

And – almost everyone can walk.

 It is inexpensive.

It requires no gym membership.

It requires no special equipment, other than a suitable pair of shoes.

It can be done almost anywhere … sidewalks, trails, malls, indoor tracks or in your living room in front of a tape such as Leslie Sansone’s One Mile Walk.  (As much as I try to avoid promoting specific products, her One Mile Walk DVD is excellent, as are all her programs)

I have read many articles over the years about people who have lost significant weight with the combination of walking and sensible eating.  NOTE:  I said the combination of exercise and sensible eating.  No point in going for a walk when your destination is the nearest donut shop or to finish your walk in time to watch you favorite television program accompanied by a bag of potato chips.

In an article I read recently in Canadian Living Magazine, Ann Douglas states “I challenged myself to become physically active for the first time ever.  I dusted off the unused treadmill sitting in the spare bedroom and treated myself to a FitBit (a wearable pedometer) for motivation.  I aimed for a minimum of 10,000  steps (roughly eight kilometers of walking) each day.  At first, a walk around the block was all I could manage.  It took only a few minutes of walking before I would start to experience excruciating cramping on the soles of my feet.  But as I built up my endurance and the weight began to come off, the foot pain disappeared and being active became a joy rather than an agony.”  Further along in the article she says, “I’ve developed an unexpected love of physical activity.  Twice daily walks keep my anxiety levels in check.  I feel better on days when I am physically active (less restless and edgy, as if I have too much of the wrong kind of energy).  I have a newfound respect for my body and what it can do, and I constantly challenge myself to increase my strength and stamina.”  She concludes by adding, “Sure, I have managed to lose a lot – 120 pounds, to be precise.  But I have gained so much more; I have gained a life.”

I found that really inspiring and it was all due to some lifestyle changes and walking.

Take the lesson of The Tortoise and The Hare to heart … slow and steady really does win the race – when it comes to getting healthy.

 Walking is the ideal low impact aerobic exercise.  That’s why walking has become one of the most popular ways to stay fit.  As stated above, it’s inexpensive – all it takes is a little motivation and a comfortable pair of shoes.

Last time we talked about walking I posted a video called 23 ½ Hours, which showed the benefits of simply walking ½ hour per day … leaving you 23 ½ hours to do whatever else in your life needs to be done.  Recent studies once again confirm that premise … according to the Cooper Institute for Aerobics Research, men who walk at least half an hour, six days a week, can cut their mortality rate from heart disease in half, compared to those who are sedentary.  Studies show similar heart health benefits for women when the exercise regularly.

Regular walking CAN and DOES help control weight.  When combined with a low-calorie, low-fat diet, walking daily can help reduce body weight and fat. It’s an effective calorie burner.  Walking at an even pace for 1 hour burns about 350 calories, while walking briskly and moving your arms with each stride can burn as much as 500 calories, depending on your metabolism.  The extra bonus is that you will continue to burn calories even after you’ve finished exercising. 

Imagine burning calories even while you sleep!

Walking is no different than any other exercise.  To maximize the benefits you must sustain an activity for at least 20 to 60 minutes at each session … BUT … if you are out of shape or have physical limitations start with a 5 or 10 minutes workout and very gradually add 2 minutes every week or so until you reach your goal.  Even a leisurely walk of 10 –20 minutes every day is beneficial … then if you decide you want to make that leisurely stroll into a real workout, follow these guidelines used by the famous marathon walker Ruth Artz:

  1. Try to take long strides using your gluteal muscles (the muscle in your butt) to propel your forward.
  2. Bend your arms lightly, swinging them as you walk.
  3. Stand up straight with your abdominal muscles tucked in.
  4. Maintain a pace at which you are breathing deeply but can still carry on a conversation, although you would prefer not to.
  5. If your breathing becomes labored and conversation difficult, you are working out too hard.  Anytime you fell out of breath or have any pain, slow down or take a break.

I know … it seems hard to believe that something as simple as walking can make a difference but it’s true!  In the Chatelaine Magazine’s Health section (September 2013) they had an article called “30 IS THE NEW 60” and it reiterated all of the above information as well as the information in the 23 ½ Hours video

“Researchers at the University of Copenhagen discovered that an hour of exercise isn’t any more effective for weight loss than a 30-minute power session.”  Granted, you will definitely burn more calories by extending your work out, so if you can keep going, by all means do so.  “You’re also more likely to to exercise and stick to it when it takes less time.”

Lee Scott the founder of WOW Power Walking says, “On a scale of one to ten where one is easy and ten totally exhausting, aim for a rating of six to eight for most of the walk.  Warm up for about five minutes at a slower pace.  Once you hit your stride, don’t stop.”

If you want to “put some extra pep in your step” he recommends the following:

  1. Pump your arms.  A few tweaks to your walking technique can boost the number of calories you burn.  The best thing you can do is bend your elbows into a running position and pick up the pace.  Then aim for short, quick steps (they make you move faster).  Finally, keep your chin up and eyes focused in front of you (not at the ground).  People tend to look down, especially if you are going up a hill, but that only slows you down.
  2. Set mini destination goals.  Track your intensity by walking one or two city blocks at a fast speed, followed by one block at a recovery speed.  Continue alternating speeds until you eliminate the slower intervals.  Challenge yourself by walking in one direction for 15 minutes, then turn around and try to make it back to the same spot in 10 minutes.
  3. Add some hill training.  Inclines are one of the easiest ways to boost intensity.  The hill doesn’t have to be steep.  Walking up and down even a mild slope increases the difficulty – and turns your walk into a killer glute workout.
  4. Toss in a circuit or two.  Alternative five-minute burst of walking with lunges, push-ups and squats.  You don’t need any equipment for these basic moves, and they’re a great way to add strength-training twist to any waling workout.

Okay, reality check … not all of us are ready for the amped up version of Mr. Scott’s power walks.  For those of us who need to start slowly or who really cannot get out to walk or spare the time on the treadmill, remember … one to two minute periods of exercise that add up to 30 minutes of activity a day, are just as beneficial for preventing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and metabolic syndrome as s structured program.  Oregon State University researchers recommend building exercise into our daily routines.  For example, by using a rake instead of a leaf blower, or by pacing while talking on the phone you can sneak in periods of exercise to burn off those calories. 

The magic number s 10,000
steps per day!

The age-old trick of parking your car a little further from the front door to the mall, the grocery store or your office will help add steps.

If you are watching television get up and walk in place during the commercials.  Every little bit helps.

If you have a dog walk him ... or borrow a neighbours dog!  You know what they say ... "If your dog is overweight, it means YOU are NOT getting enough exersize.

Change is always difficult, but think of all the benefits of adding just a little bit of movement into your day. The key to success lies within yourself, so lace up your sneakers and put one foot in front of the other and you will be starting your own walking program to better health!

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