Why walking can do wonders for you

ery few of us would argue that walking is simply a naturally wonderful way of getting and keeping yourself in shape.  It’s free, accessible and there is minimal investment in expensive equipment with the exception of a good pair of walking shoes.  But how many of us realize the numerous perks of an exercise most of us can do yet most of us don’t take advantage of?

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends adults to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. Walking is a perfect choice for achieving this goal and reaping the benefits it has to offer. 

To achieve these benefits, it’s important to understand that even though walking may seem pretty straightforward, you want to make sure you are doing it right.  Here are some things to remember when walking to get the most out of this exercise:

Achieving a correct walking form

·      Hold your head high focusing your eyes 15 to 20 feet in front of you

·      Keep your shoulders back and relaxed moving them freely

·      Keep your chin parallel to the ground

·      Pull stomach muscles in to tone abs and burn more calories

·      Tuck your pelvis under your torso

·      Swing your arms in a natural motion while walking briskly, bending elbows at a 90 degree angle

·      Position your feet parallel to each other, shoulder-width apart. 

·      Strike the ground with the heel first, roll forward through arch of the foot and push from the toes

·      Increase stride length to target inner and outer thigh muscles

Now that you know the proper form for getting the most out of walking, let’s look at all the benefits walking will bring to your life. 

Benefits of walking

·      Helps with managing weight

·      No special equipment needed

·      It’s a low impact exercise easier on the joints than jogging or running and less likely to injure yourself

·      It’s a weight bearing exercise helping to maintain bone strength and can reduce the risk of hip fractures by 40%

·      Helps to maintain lean muscle tissue

·      Improves cardiovascular fitness by reducing the risk of a heart attack

·      Improves blood pressure by lowering it

·      Improves circulation

·      Improves mood by reducing symptoms of depression, anxiety and stress

·      It’s easily accessible and just about everyone can do it, even people with arthritis

·      May help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimers

·      Helps manage type 2 diabetes for better blood glucose control

·      It boosts immune function

·      Improves balance helping reduce falls in the elderly

·      It gives you a chance to think things through coming up with ideas and solutions

Getting the most out of walking

There are certain things one can do to make a walking workout a challenging, overall effective means of getting in shape and burning as many calories as possible.  Here are some ways of escalating the intensity:

·      Walk faster – Have you ever watched competitive walkers walk?  It may look a little silly but the faster you can walk, the more calories you’ll burn helping tone your legs, arms and butt muscles.  If a woman weighing 150 lbs walks at a pace of 2.0 mph for 30 minutes, she’ll burn about 72 calories.  But, if she speeds up to a pace of 4.0 mph for 30 minutes, about 180 calories will be burned – more than doubled. 

·      Walk farther – Depending on what shape you are in can determine how far you can walk.  The important thing is to walk each day, increasing the distance and or time gradually as your stamina and strength improve.  Make small but regular increases and before you know it, you’ll be walking much farther than you thought you could.

·      Walk up and down hills – If you only walk on flat terrain, you’ll be missing out on an opportunity to build more muscle while burning more calories.  Find an area where the terrain has some hills or inclines to walk up and down to increase this intensity.  Walking up a hill should be done fast but be careful on the descent so as not to put too much stress on your knees.

·      Walk on more challenging surfaces – It’s easy to walk on a treadmill, pavement or a rubberized track surface but you’ll find it more challenging and interesting to mix it up by walking on a variety of surfaces.  Try walking on sand, grass, an unpaved nature trail or even a country road.  Unconventional walkways test your muscles by making them work harder to maintain your balance while requiring more energy resulting in a greater calorie deficit.  Do be careful though in making sure you have sturdy footwear so as not to twist an ankle or accidently fall. 

·      Walk with walking poles – Yes, you will stand out using Nordic walking poles but who cares when you know how effective they are.  The simple act of using walking poles can increase calorie burning by 50%.  It addition, it also targets areas of the body that normally get overlooked when walking such as the chest, arms, shoulders, and abdominal muscles getting them more toned. 

·      Walk mixing up the speed – This is also known as interval training where you alternate the speed at which you walk.  To get a really huge metabolism boost, alternate between walking at a comfortable speed for so many minutes and then walk at a much faster speed for at least a minute or more.  Do this each time you walk and you’ll see vast improvement on your walking speed, stamina and calories burned. 

Make walking your exercise of choice

Whoever said walking is only for light-weight exercisers, never tried to make it a challenge.  “Walking is man’s best friend,” stated Hippocrates, the father of medicine and a very wise man.  Make walking your best friend too and better yet, invite a real best friend to experience the journey and discover together what it can do for both of you, one step at a time.