Walking is a moderate, low impact exercise that is accessible to almost everyone. As well as being a more appealing choice to those not so keen on strenuous activities, it is also a perfect way to ease into fitness and health. Some of the advantages of walking are, that it is relatively safe, is easy to perform and its health benefits are many. People can walk to achieve weight loss or to improve their fitness and there are also a host of health and wellness benefits as well (Last week’s introduction to walking can be read by clicking HERE) .
Preparing to Walk
Before commencing a walking program, it is always advisable to assess your health. If you have not exercised for an extended period of time, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or any other medical condition, you smoke or you are overweight, then you should consult a physician prior to starting any exercise program.
Invest in a good pair of walking shoes (trainers). Select a pair with proper arch support, a firm heel and thick flexible soles that cushion your feet, elevate the heel and absorb shock. Wear comfortable, loose fitting clothing that is suitable to your particular environment and dress in layers so that you can peel off items if you get hot. It is also advisable to wear bright colours and reflective tape, in order that cyclists and motorists can see you.
I have on occasion, read about or even seen people who have been injured by cars or bicycles whilst walking. Hence, I strongly advise that you look for a safe location to walk in such as a park, quiet streets, a pedestrian track, an athletics field or even a shopping centre.
It is important to take care of your limbs and organs by incorporating a warm-up and cool-down to every exercise session. The most effective way to achieve this, is to start walking at a slow pace and to gradually build up the intensity. Then reduce your pace towards the end of your walk to bring your heart rate down. It is also advisable to add some stretches to the end of the cool-down phase.
Walking for Health
There are numerous health benefits to be gained from a regular walking program. These include reducing the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colon and breast cancer and mental illness. These are all conditions that become more prevalent in middle age.
As is common with other types of exercise, the endorphins that are released whilst walking help to improve mood and to reduce stress and anxiety.
Regular walking helps to give knee joints a good work-out and improves the surrounding muscle strength. It is also one of the best choices of exercise if you already have joint problems or osteoporosis because it does not put excessive pressure on your joints and bones.
Although you may initially feel tired, energy levels will be boosted over time and sleep patterns are likely to become deeper and more restful.
Walking for Fitness
There are three principle objectives to a walking program. Some people walk to improve fitness, some do it to induce weight loss, whilst others do it for both reasons. For each of these, three different variables come into play. They are frequency (number of sessions a week), time (how long you walk for) and intensity (how hard you work). These will be discussed in more depth in my next article.
In order to achieve cardiovascular fitness, walking needs to be at a brisk tempo, where heart rate is raised and there is an element of breathlessness. Fitness walks tend to be shorter in duration and less often than weight loss walks. A specific example would be to walk three to four times a week, for up to forty minutes at a fast pace. The forty minutes is inclusive of ten minutes for warm-up and cool-down. A fast pace is where you will be breathing hard but not gasping for air.
Walking for Weight loss
A fundamental problem with weight loss is the fact that the fat invariably returns, once a person stops dieting. After years of studies, the experts have eventually come to a modicum of agreement. The general consensus is for long term lifestyle changes to be made to both eating habits and exercise. Walking is a convenient and easy form of exercise that is extremely well suited to fulfilling or being part of the exercising role.
Walking for weight loss is slower than for fitness but requires longer sessions and greater frequency. An example would be to walk a minimum of five days a week for forty five to sixty minutes and at a brisk but comfortable pace.
Walking in Middle Age
Walking is an effective way of achieving long term fitness and of controlling weight. It is a particularly appropriate form of exercise for middle age people, as it is low impact and poses lower health risks than most other types of exercise.
There are many different routines that can be incorporated into a walking program as well as a wide range of basic equipment that can be used to provide resistance. These will be discussed next time (click HERE to view specific walking programs).