Part of my walk tutorial is in the original YMCA building in central London – a cavernous gym with incongruous snatches of stained glass reminding exercisers of a higher religious purpose. Every time someone walks past, Hall waspishly critiques their walk (eg: “Look at the bend in his knees and his arms are swinging like hinges”). This becomes more and more enjoyable as her meaning unfolds.
It’s official: Walking is as good for your brain as it is for your body. A comprehensive study of the effects of exercise on the brain found that it benefits all aspects of your mind, including memory, cognition, learning, reading and it even increases the size of your brain to boot. Even better, walking protects your brain by lessening your risk of getting cognitive illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. Find out why walking at work is even better than a standing desk.
The physical fitness of our nation is declining, proved by the rising rates of obesity, diabetes, some types of cardiovascular disease, and other medical conditions. To improve physical fitness, one must "practice," or work out. Emphasis should be on improving aerobic conditioning (stamina or endurance), muscular strength and endurance, and flexibility.
“Cardiovascular health is defined by your capacity to exert yourself,” says Nicole Belkin, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian/ Columbia University Medical Center. “Regular physical activity trains the cardiovascular system to expand the level of demand and increase its capacity. This results in increased blood flow and blood volume to the heart.”
The canon of walking literature has centred, almost entirely, on the infinite charms of an activity that nobody has ever tried to be good at. But the human body has charms of its own, and when its movements go from wrong to right, you recognise it like a melody. Maybe it’s possible to be dynamic and contemplative. Either way, there’s no looking back.
For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity. The guidelines suggest that you spread out this exercise during the course of a week. Also aim to do strength training exercises of all major muscle groups at least two times a week.
Whatever makes you feel comfortable is the easy answer. There is no need for fancy spandex or workout clothes, unless that’s what you like. As you start moving farther and faster, you may want to get dedicated fitness walking clothes that wick away sweat or allow you to layer for different weather conditions, but for a beginning fitness walker, comfort trumps everything else.
Walking also offers plenty of health benefits, including lowering the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes; reducing the risk of developing dementia and cancer and even reducing fibromyalgia pain. Plus, walking may be even more beneficial than running. Walkers have a much lower risk of exercise-related injuries than runners, whose legs absorb about 100 tons of impact force in just one mile. So, if you’re just starting your fitness journey, know that fitness walking is a seriously good place to begin.
Men and women who walk briskly for more than 30 minutes a day were found to have lower BMIs and smaller waists than everyone else involved in the study. 'Given the obesity epidemic, and the fact that a large proportion of people in the UK are inactive, recommending that people walk briskly more often is a cheap and easy policy option,’ said Dr Grace Lordon, who lead the research.
One of the most effective ways to gauge how hard you are working during exercise is to monitor your heart rate. Your heart rate is measured in beats per minute (bpm), and you can check it by taking your pulse periodically during your workout. Check either your radial pulse at your wrist or your carotid pulse at the side of your neck. Start with zero to count the pulse beats for 10 seconds and multiply that number by six to determine your heart rate. An efficient alternative to checking your pulse is to use a heart rate monitor, which displays your heart rate throughout your workout.
Add strengthening exercises to your walking workout to build muscle. Even though strength training does not burn considerable calories, it replaces your fat with lean muscle mass. Your body works harder to sustain your muscle mass, raising your resting metabolism so you burn more calories throughout the day. Invest in light hand weights or wrist weights and pump your hands as you walk. Build lower body muscles by lifting your knees high during part of your walk. Stop every five minutes and do a series of squats or lunges.
What I mean by "be specific" pertains to setting exercise plans. Planning is helpful for behavior change, and I suggest that you set goals each week. I suggest writing down what day(s) of the week you'll exercise, what time of day, minutes of activity, location, and the activity that you'll do. Be as specific and realistic as possible, and remember that it's not how much you do when you get started but that you simply get started (getting started is usually the hardest part).
I recommend using a pedometer, or better yet, one of the newer wearable fitness trackers, to keep track and find out how far you normally walk. At first, you may be surprised to realize just how little you move each day. Tracking your steps can also show you how simple and seemingly minor changes to the way you move around during the day can add up. Plus, it’s motivating to see your steps increase throughout the day, which makes it easier to push yourself a little farther to reach your 10,000-step goal.
8. Gregg EW, Cauley JA, Stone K, Thompson TJ, Bauer DC, Cummings SR, Ensrud KE. Relationship of changes in physical activity and mortality among older women. J Am Med Assoc 2003: 289 (18): 2379-86. myDr myDr provides comprehensive Australian health and medical information, images and tools covering symptoms, diseases, tests, medicines and treatments, and nutrition and fitness.
Exercise has been called a “miracle drug” for its ability to help prevent cancer, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, and many, many other illnesses. Let’s be honest, there doesn’t seem to be a single health condition that it can’t help in some way. And unlike real drugs, walking has no side effects, is easily accessible, affordable, effective, and best of all you don’t need a prescription! Check out these sneaky ways to walk more steps every day.
Fenton preaches consistency over speed. “In seeking consistency,” he says, “it is most important that walking becomes a regular habit, not something you do on the weekends or when the weather is good. The fitness walker must make a positive commitment to exercise a certain number of days a week over a specific distance or length of time, even if some of those days show fairly modest efforts.” He suggests that easier days can be used when other duties demand your time.
Most of us who exercise regularly understand that exercise can elevate our mood. There have been a number of studies investigating the effects of exercise on depression. In one of the most recent studies, it was shown that three to five days per week for 12 weeks of biking or treadmill for approximately 30 minutes per workout reduced scores on a depression questionnaire by 47%. It's not a substitute for therapy in a depression that causes someone to be unable to function (in which case medication and/or psychotherapy may be necessary), but for milder forms of depression, the evidence is persuasive that it can help.
Inevitably, this made me a little smug; equally inevitably, it made me tell anyone who’d listen that they, too, should do this amazing thing I was doing. Walking is the only thing I ever evangelise about, because, unlike everything else that makes me feel good (meditation, Jaffa cakes, the fantasy fiction genre, the TV show River and buying a good Flat White) walking is the one thing I truly believe will work for everyone. Anyone who can walk, should walk.
As with walking, jogging is an activity that is relatively simple to do without spending a lot of money. However, it is important to purchase a pair of good running shoes that fit comfortably and properly. Stick to loose fitting and lightweight clothes that allow your body to breathe and move easily. Jogging is a vigorous activity, so if you are new to jogging you may want to begin by walking for three or four minutes and then jogging for one. As you get stronger, you can begin to increase the lengths of the jogging intervals.
“The 10,000 steps goal is thought to be a realistic minimum, and it’s good, but for complete risk reduction, people should aim for more,” says William Tigbe, M.D., Ph.D., a physician and public health researcher at University of Warwick and lead author of the study showing that 15,000 steps per day can lead to greater benefits. “In our study, those who took 5,000 extra steps had no metabolic syndrome risk factors at all.”
Classes are great for people who like to exercise with others, who like to dance, who like music and rhythm, who want the extra motivation and energy that an instructor and class provides, and who prefer the structure and schedule of a regular class. Classes, equipment, and videos are all great ways to stay fit and healthy, but if you're limited by injury or other conditions, then aerobic exercise chair workouts may be just the thing (see resources for online vendors). The instructor leads you through a workout in a chair and it's great exercise. You might not need chair exercise, but you may have a parent or friend who does. Exercise videos and DVDs make great gifts!
Here’s my most important tip for walkers. It’s not the foot strike. It’s not the arm swing. It’s the “belly-button-to-spine” action that will make the walk more effective, protect your back, and get your abs in on the action. I call it a “tummy tuck.” Draw the belly button toward the spine. That deep layer of muscle is key to supporting your back. It stabilizes the middle of the body so that the legs can move with much more power.
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Taking a walk alone can be great for clearing your head or blowing off some steam but it also provides a great opportunity to bond with friends and family—far away from electronics and other distractions at home. Even better, you set a powerful example because when they see you reaping in the benefits of walking, they’ll be encouraged to walk more, too, according to a study published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise. Try these walking workouts that will keep your walking group interesting.