Press-Republican

May 28, 2013

Walking an underrated form of exercise

By JOHN VASILE, Fit Bits
Press-Republican

---- — Many people may not recognize the importance of walking. 

It is something we do every day and rarely think about. However, there are real benefits to walking, and it is certainly a great activity on beautiful sunny days. It is one of the simplest and least expensive ways to increase your physical activity level and improve your overall health.

HEALTH BENEFITS

Walking is a weight-bearing exercise that increases bone density but is easy on joints. Bone density is important, especially for aging women at risk of osteoporosis. 

Other benefits include reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and obesity. Walking also conditions lower extremity muscles, which help pump blood back to the heart, improve circulation, muscular endurance and balance.

There are numerous muscles that are engaged during walking, including the knee extensors (quadriceps); hip extensors (hamstrings and gluteal muscles); lower legs (gastrocnemius and soleus in the back and tibialis anterior on the front); and arch muscles in the feet. 

Keeping these muscles conditioned is crucial to a successful walking program.

WELL-FITTED SHOES

It is a given that walking shoes or sneakers are needed for this activity. However, it is important to wear a shoe that is well-fitted and has the correct amount of cushion. 

Individuals with any ankle issues may need additional ankle support. Proper arch support and flexible soles are necessary, as well. Clothing should be appropriate for weather and climate. Sunglasses and sunscreen should be worn in order to protect you from harmful UV rays. 

As always in exercise, proper hydration is necessary in order to maintain good health.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends people participate in a walk or other moderate intensity exercise for 150 minutes or more a week for health benefits. 

For weight loss, 250 minutes or more of moderate-intensity activity is recommended per week.

PEDOMETER

A pedometer is a motion-sensing device, typically worn at the hip, that records walking data. 

This self-monitoring tool will help you keep track of your total steps and distance walked. One activity scale that depicts various levels of walking (in steps daily) shows that 0-5,000 is sedentary, 5,000-7,499 is low active, 7,500-9,999 is somewhat active, 10,000-12,500 is active and 12,500 or more is highly active. 

It is important to notice that this merely measures steps and does not include other non-ambulatory activity throughout the day. For healthy adults, a daily goal should be 10,000 steps per day (about 5 miles). 

If you are currently below this, progress your steps by 1,000 per day every two weeks until you reach your 10,000 steps per day.

IMPROVISE

Try walking different routes, while mixing in hills for terrain variation. Also, incorporate some interval training into the program by varying the pace. Some examples could include power and speed walking. 

In order to maintain ambition and tempo, listen to music that is enjoyable and upbeat (while being cautious of traffic!). Mix social time with exercise by walking friends, which will also make it more fun.

There are different ways to incorporate more walking into your daily activities. Each day, try to park further from your destination — school, work or the store. Use stairs instead of elevators or escalators.

Even small amounts of additional activity will increase total calorie expenditure.

JUDGE BY BREATHING

One way to increase energy output is to push off your toes more through each stride. This will engage more of your calf muscles when walking. 

Use a more vigorous arm swing, as upper body muscles will help burn more calories. When walking, use breathing patterns to determine perceived exertion. Easy breathing would be considered casual pace, halting speech would be a brisk 3-to-4-mph pace and the inability to speak would indicate that you are walking too fast.

Becoming and staying regularly active through a walking program is one effective way of maintaining good health and body composition. 

This is an activity that can be performed over a lifetime.

John Vasile, NSCA, holds a bachelor’s degree and is a certified personal trainer at the Wellness Center at PARC, located at 295 New York Road (next to ARC) in Plattsburgh. For more information, call him at 324-2024.