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 Reprinted from Mature Fitness (formerly published as the Senior Fitness Bulletin) by
 permission of the American Senior Fitness Association (800) 243-1478,
 www.seniorfitness.net

Walk Your Way to Fitness

By Harold L. Rainwater, M.S.

 

Harold Rainwater is a professor of physical education and recreation at Asbury College in Wilmore, Kentucky. He holds a master's degree in physical education and is a certified senior personal trainer through the American Senior Fitness Association.

 


 

Fitness experts now feel that good old walking can be as valuable an aerobic exercise as jogging, swimming, or biking. In fact, walking may be the best form of exercise you can undertake. Walking is the oldest form of exercise known to man. Seventy_seven million Americans regularly walk for fitness and pleasure, reaping the following benefits:

The popularity of walking as a fitness activity is growing. Walking is low risk, easy to start, and it is pretty hard to hurt yourself. Runners and with three to four times their body weight every time their feet hit the ground. Walkers, by contrast, land with only one and one_half times their body weight. Walking exercises muscles all over your body, and it is actually one of the best exercises for healthy feet. Walking is great exercise for people who are in terrific shape, and it's just as good for people in lousy shape. Virtually every cardiac rehabilitation program in America bases its exercise regimen on walking.

Get Ready

A walking program is simple to start. All you need are comfortable clothes and shoes. Layer loose clothing, keeping in mind that exercise elevates the body's temperature. Shoes specifically designed for walking are best. Look for these eight features when purchasing walking shoes:

  1. Uppers of a high quality, breathable materials, such as leather.
  2. Comfortable padded heel collar.
  3. Firm heel counter (that cups the heel) to provide stability for the entire foot and leg.
  4. Heel should be held in shoe, well cushioned and supported, somewhat higher than rest of the foot.
  5. Entire sole should be designed to absorb shock.
  6. Substantial arch supports.
  7. A rocker profile sole enhances a smooth heel-to-toe motion.
  8. The toe box should allow ample room and toes should not be tight against any part of the shoe.

Every workout should begin with a gently active warm-up and a few simple stretches. Although walking primarily works the major muscles of the legs, don't forget to stretch your back, shoulders, and arms. This will help loosen up any tension you may have and make your walk more enjoyable as well as more effective.

Walking is one fitness activity that allows you numerous options. Once you have reached a point at which you can walk a few miles with relative ease, you can start to vary the intensity. At this stage, you might want to evaluate your aerobic or cardiorespiratory fitness level by walking one mile as fast as you can.

Design a Personal Walking Program

Consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program. Set a time schedule that you can keep. Design your walking program according to your fitness level:

Beginner

Walk short distances. Begin by trying a mile stroll and increase the duration each time by 2 to 5 minutes. Forget about speed. Focus on good posture, keeping your head lifted and shoulders relaxed. Swing your arms naturally and breathe deeply. If you can't catch your breath, slow down or avoid inclines and hills.

Intermediate

If you are in this category you can walk your way to fitness by exercising continuously for 30 minutes. Be sure you can talk while walking. If you can't converse, you are walking too fast. Walk briskly, but don't overdo it __ speed is not your focus.

Advanced

If you reach this category, you should be able to walk 30 to 60 minutes comfortably. You can concentrate on lengthening your stride or increasing your speed. Consider adding hills or inclines.

Stay Motivated

Keep in mind that there are many good reasons to walk:

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