Thursday, January 3, 2013

Walk Your Way to Health

If you've got a New Year’s resolution to get in shape or lose weight, but aren't sure you’re up to the rigors of a strenuous running or fitness center program, walking may be the perfect solution for you. 

How good is walking for you?

Walking has substantial health benefits. It lowers blood pressure. It lowers low-density lipoprotein (LDL) rates, the "bad" cholesterol; while raising high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the "good" cholesterol. Some studies indicate that it also reduces type 2 diabetes risks. A 1999 Harvard study showed that a moderate walking pace of about three or four miles per hour, for as little as 30 minutes a day can reduce heart disease risks up to 40 percent.

Because walking can be a very gentle introduction to physical fitness, and you can build new challenges gradually (walking faster, walking further, walking with altitude, etc.) as your health permits, walking programs can be very successful. Walking is a great way to get started on a routine for many individuals; compared to starting a running or jogging program, which takes more effort to get into and keep up with.

Ready, set, go!

To make sure you succeed at your new walking resolution, it’s important to:
Look for good traction and protection from the
impact of pavement-pounding when choosing
a walking shoe.
  • Get ready: Make a plan and get the right things together.
  • Get set: Know what to do before you set your feet in motion each day.
  • Go: Understand a few important things to ensure a safe and effective walk.
Let’s take a look at these in more detail.

Get ready:  How to prepare a walking plan

Here’s an 8-step plan to get yourself ready for success.
  1. Set a goal.  As with any new challenge, your chances of success increase if you know exactly what you want to accomplish. Your definition of success should be realistic but challenging.  For example, “Losing 200 pounds by March” would be a dangerous overreach, either setting yourself up for failure or putting your health at risk by trying to reach it.
  2. Break it down.  Once you know what your goal is – achieve X pounds of body weight loss by the end of X month, or get your resting blood pressure down to X, for example – then you can set that plan in motion by breaking it down into bite-sized challenges. For example, “Walk enough to lose a pound a week” is much less overwhelming than “Walk enough to lose 20 pounds by summer,” even though they are essentially the same thing.
  3. Make an action plan. Now that you have your goal “actionable,” build an action plan from it.  You can find calculators online that will give you a general idea of how many miles of walking at a certain pace burns how many calories.
  4. Avoid sabotage! Consider your overall lifestyle, not just your walking plan. For example, adding 12 miles of walking to your week to lose weight cannot succeed if you are already regularly gaining weight from overeating. Eat healthy while adding exercise to your lifestyle.
  5. Get a checkup. Before starting any new exercise program, it’s best to consult with your doctor to make sure that you’re up to the task.
  6. Build an accountability network. Whether your friends are online or next door, make sure you have people who know your plan – someone who will see your progress. A good online community I've used for accountability is Or you can search for walking groups in your area on Facebook or by searching walking groups + your location in your browser's search box. The idea is not to have others telling you what to do; it’s about you knowing that others are counting on you to follow through. You're less likely to call it quits one mile into a planned two-mile walk because the weather is less than ideal. 
  7. Join or form a group. Another great way to build accountability is to not do it alone. Join an existing group of walkers or form one from one or two of your friends, and then build a schedule that you can all do together. Knowing that your friend will be knocking on your door for the morning walk ensures that you don’t get distracted from your walk by life’s conflicts.
  8. Get the right attire. The main thing is good shoes to walk in. What makes a walking shoe a good choice for walking? Good traction and adequate protection from pavement-pounding.  Seek advice from a reputable athletic supply store. Also get some loose-fitting clothes of varying degrees of warmth, so you’re ready for any kind of weather.

Get set: How to prepare for your walk

It can be discouraging to step out the door for your walk only to find yourself drenched from a heavy downpour before you've gone two blocks. Prepare for your walk by checking the forecast the night before, which also helps prepare your mind to the challenge. If the weather may be cold or wet, dress in layers. Remember that the more vigorous the exercise, the more your body heats up. By peeling off layers as you warm up, you can stay comfortable and enjoy your walk.
calories burned walking
Consider dog walking to make your
walk more fun!

Go! – How to walk for health

Start slow, especially if you've just recently woken up, or were sitting for an extended time. Your heart and muscles need time to warm up. If necessary, allow a moment to do some gentle stretching of the muscles you’ll be using on your walk. Once your heart rate is ready for the task, then slowly pick up the pace.

To make your walk more enjoyable consider dog walking – Fido benefits too! Use walking music, audio books, or radio programs to keep you motivated.

Walking distance: How long should I walk?

That depends on your goal. According to LiveStrong, a 160-lb. person who walks for an hour at 3.5 mph burns about 275 calories, but a 240-lb. person who does the same walk burns about 415 calories. Carrying weights can help you burn more calories with fewer miles, as can walking faster.   There are many charts available online that can show the calories burned walking according to speed of walking and body weight.

Good luck with your walking goals, and consider sharing your goals, plans, or successes here!

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

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