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Walking: The Easiest Exercise

It's the simplest way to get fit, stay in shape and strengthen your heart and bones

En español | Every magazine I read features models and celebrities running, kickboxing, climbing or stretching. You’d think that people are doing nothing but this stuff all day long, and that we're on our way to becoming a society in which everyone is as fit as Cindy Crawford and George Clooney.

But wait a minute. All we really need to do is walk — at a brisk pace while enjoying our surroundings, breathing fresh air and, if we choose, spending time with a friend or family member. Doesn’t that sound like more fun?

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two people walking on the beach

Walking is one of the easiest and safest activities for burning calories and tuning up the cardiovascular system. — Photo by Benelux/Corbis

Walking really is good for you. For instance, a diabetes prevention program for people who are overweight showed that walking 150 minutes a week can reduce the risk of developing diabetes by nearly 60 percent. That tells me walking is a lifesaver. Why not do it most days of the week?

One way to get motivated is to wear a pedometer. Clip one to your waistband and it will count all the steps you walk, even if you're just going to the fridge for food. Wearing a pedometer provided me with a reality check about just how much ground I really cover in a day. The first day I wore a pedometer, I walked my dogs (in shifts since there are 16 of them ), did some housework, walked around town and finally went to bed. I was sure I’d hit 10,000 steps. When I checked the pedometer, it had recorded a mere 6,000 steps! I knew I could do better.

So I made an effort to walk more. No more going into a snit when I had to park my car far from the entrance to a store. I decided to park far away on purpose. I was going to find ways to take more steps, even if I had to pace around my house while talking on my cell phone. I’m extremely competitive, so I wanted to beat my first day’s totals.  And I did. Pretty soon, I got up to 10,000 steps. Most exercise experts recommend 30 minutes of activity most days of the week, and walking is a great way to get it. Taking 10,000 steps over the course of a day is roughly equivalent to 30 minutes of moderately vigorous exercise.

Here’s something a lot of people don’t know about walking: It's a "spot-reducer." Yes, I know you’re thinking there’s no such thing. But hear me out: Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis put a group of men and women, ages 60 to 70, on a nine- to 12-month exercise program that consisted of walking or jogging. On average, the subjects exercised 45 minutes several times a week. By the end of the study, both the men and the women had lost weight, and primarily from the abdominal area. It goes to show that a simple exercise program such as walking can both melt off abdominal fat, which creeps on as we get older, and help reduce the risk of diseases linked to abdominal fat.

Walking is simply one of the easiest — and safest — activities for burning calories and tuning up the cardiovascular system. If you opt for walking, walk as long as you can. In most studies of overweight people who progressively increased their periods of walking over a year’s time, no weight loss occurred until their walking exceeded 30 minutes a day. And all the weight they lost was pure fat. (By the way, walking one mile burns approximately 100 calories.)

If you’re just starting a walking program, begin the first week by walking 20 minutes three times a week. For the next few weeks, increase your time to 30 minutes. As you feel more energetic and fit, add an extra session or two to your weekly walking program. Try to work up to five sessions a week, for 30 to 45 minutes each time, especially if you’re trying to pare off fat pounds. Remember to walk at a good clip, too. Here are some additional tips:    

  • Wear sturdy athletic shoes.
  • Keep your head level as you walk and look straight ahead.
  • Bend your elbows at about a 90-degree angle and keep them close to your sides. Swing your arms back and forth as you walk.
  • Let your heel strike the ground first, then roll from the heel to the ball of your foot. Push off with the ball of your foot for more momentum.
  • Take long, smooth strides. Walk as briskly as you can.
  • Breathe deeply but naturally as you walk.

Finally, make your walk meaningful. Look around. Enjoy your surroundings. Have fun.

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