Walk On

By Valerie Lemke

December 5, 2008 5 min read


Get up and start moving by beginning this lifelong exercise

Valerie Lemke

Creators News Service

Walking, the ability to propel oneself from one place to another, has had all the makings of a lifelong exercise program since man first stood up on two legs. The benefits -- both psychologically and physically -- are plentiful.

"Just about anybody can walk," said Carla Sottovia, senior personal trainer at the Cooper Fitness Center, a 3,500-member high-end health club on the campus of the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas. As exercise programs go, "walking is less injurious than running, increases cardiovascular fitness, releases hormones that improve your mood and can be pursued throughout life," she said.

If that isn't enough to get you off the couch, walking requires no expensive equipment and no membership dues. You don't need a partner or perplexing instructions, you're not tied to a treadmill and you can walk anywhere, anytime and in any season.

Sottovia, who has competed in more than 50 triathlons, agreed with other exercise physiologists that active walking can also be a stress reducer, giving you time to think good thoughts or sort out problems. You can also ponder, pray, plan your day or just enjoy the outdoors.

But how do you begin to forge a lifelong good health habit?

As a rule of thumb, if you've been very inactive and have not had a physical in a year, get a checkup before beginning a walking program, Sottovia said.

"When starting out, sedentary individuals should walk three times a week, 30 minutes each. If 30 minutes is too exhausting, break it up into two 15-minute walks or even three 10-minute segments. Then increase the time a little each week."

During this period, determine your resting heart rate. As you progress, this will figure into a formula used to show improvement in your heart at rest as well as find out the intensity of your workout.

Intensity is not the objective in the beginning, however. "Early on, the single most important element is consistency," she said.

Stick to it. Establishing a walking habit may seem tedious and uncomfortable initially. You may be tempted to skip a session or fudge on the time or distance you walk. Just do it until walking becomes as important to you as brushing your teeth.

"The first month is critical," she said. "Make it up to six months and the chance of having a lifelong habit increases considerably."

As an interim goal, strive for a 20-minute mile. Determine a pleasant one-mile route. Wear a watch and work toward walking the route in 20 minutes. Then, when comfortable, work up to a 15-minute mile, a moderate intensity workout. "When you start to get intensity up, you can calculate your resting heart rate again as well as your training heart rate," Sottovia said. Use the Karvonen Formula, a mathematical formula which helps determine your heart rate target area, to monitor your progress quickly and easily.

Your ultimate objective is 45 to 60 minutes at moderate intensity most days of the week. Warm up by starting at a slower pace and cool down by slowing for five minutes at the end of the walk.

When you pick up the pace to moderate intensity you accrue a host of physiological benefits.

" You enhance the cardiovascular system and your heart's endurance," she said. "You can push harder, longer and faster. There's a decrease in your resting heart rate. Blood pressure issues might be helped. Your metabolic rate increases and you use calories more efficiently."

At this stage it's likely a habit has been formed. "Just do it" is replaced with a sense of pleasure and wellbeing when you walk.

"It's not hard to get hooked on walking," said Charlie Cook, who for 28 years has been director and guide of Wild Earth Adventures, a hiking club in New York State that offers guided hiking and walking trips year round. "Once it's a routine in your life, you don't feel good without it."

Offering one-day jaunts most weekends, Wild Earth Adventures is one of hundreds of such groups in the United States. "There are clubs in all 50 states," said Cook. "Go to Google to access them."

Cook, author of "Awakening to Nature: Renewing Your Life by Connecting with the Natural World" ($15, McGraw-Hill) also reinforces the fact that walking can be a lifelong activity.

"Our hikes always have a substantial number of participants in their sixties and it's very common to have people in their eighties, as well," he said.

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