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AARP, June 8, 2007
Walking is one of the best things you can do for your health. It's good for your heart, blood pressure and weight management. When you're walking to get or stay fit, your form, pace, and breathing is especially important. Mastering a good walking technique takes some time. But with practice, it will become second nature and will help you increase and maintain your pace comfortably.
You should aim for at least 30 minutes brisk walking three to four days a week to ward off chronic disease. Remember, you can accrue those 30 minutes in 10-minute sessions throughout the day.
Form and Posture
Good form will help you walk faster and longer, increasing your fitness level more quickly. You'll tire less easily, use more of your core (stomach and back) muscles, and improve the overall efficiency of your workout. Follow these instructions:
Strike with heel first. Your heel should hit the ground first. Roll your foot through to the toe, with no unnatural pushing from one foot to the other. Take shorter, rather than longer, steps. More frequent short steps will give you a better workout and be easier on your joints.
Swing your arms. Bend your arms at the elbow at a 90-degree angle and swing them toward the center of your body. Be careful not to cross the center line of your body or bend your arms at more than 90 degrees. Swinging your arms properly will give you a better aerobic workout, burn more calories, and engage more muscles throughout your torso. Also, you will be able to move faster than if your arms are dangling at your sides. Just keep your hands in a lightly curled fist (avoid clenching).
Stretch your spine. To maintain good posture, stretch your spine tall, reaching up to the sky with the top of your head. Your head should rest comfortably in line with your spine – don't tilt it back or tuck your chin. This is especially important when you're going up hills. Looking up the hill can strain your neck and make it hard to breathe.
Contract your stomach. With your spine tall, contract your stomach muscles slightly and lift them upward to support your lower back. This will also help you maintain your posture, as well as avoid straining your lower back.
Pace and Breathing
Your pace – how fast you walk – will affect your breathing. The faster you walk, the harder you'll breathe. Walking at a brisk pace gives you the same aerobic benefits as jogging.
Keep a brisk pace. You want to walk briskly – the way you would if you were late to an appointment or hurrying to catch a bus. You should be able to walk and talk at the same time.
Breathe freely. Your pace should increase your breathing rate, even to the point where you're slightly winded. You're overexerting yourself if you can't talk and are completely of breath.
Picking Up the Pace
Now that you have the technique, you're ready to pick up the pace. A good pace varies depending on your fitness level, walking technique, and even walking location. Aim for a speed that increases your heart rate, and that you can maintain for 30 to 60 minutes.
Speed. Use the talk test. If you are walking slowly enough that you can carry a tune you are probably walking too slowly. If you're gasping for air, slow down.
Speed up, slow down. A good way to increase your pace and endurance is to pick up the pace for short spells in between your steady pace. This is often referred to as interval training. After you've been walking comfortably for about five minutes, increase your speed for a minute or two, then return to your steady pace. Working your way up to a brief but high intensity walk or jog can keep your walking routine challenging and help you improve your fitness level.
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