Step by Step: Walking for Fitness
Need to start exercising? What could be easier than walking? Fitness walking reaps as many rewards as other physical activities, and you don't need special equipment or training.
The Benefits of Fitness Walking continued...
As an active member of volkssporting groups, she and her
husband have traveled by foot in all 50 states, and are now working on
traversing through all the state capitals. They have met many friends through
treks and have seen people begin lifelong relationships.
Fitness walking "gives people purpose to get out and do
something," says Cottrill. "It improves their health, it improves their
blood pressure, they can lose weight, and it just keeps them flexible."
Cottrill's observations correspond well with the scientific
research on physical activity. According to the AHA, vigorous activities that
include brisk walking and moderate activities that include walking for pleasure
can help reduce the following risk factors for heart disease:
- High blood pressure
- Obesity and overweight
- High levels of triglycerides
- Low levels of HDL ("good" cholesterol)
Additionally, Richard Stein, MD, AHA spokesman, says fitness
walking is easy to do and can achieve the same cardiovascular benefits as many
forms of physical activity.
"The heart is really a very nice organ," he says.
"It really doesn't know whether you're walking barefoot on the beach or
you're in $4,000 Nike gear in a million-dollar treadmill."
Good forms of exercise supposedly include activities that burn
fat, use large muscle groups, or happen over long distances, particularly if
there is no resistance involved.
For older people afflicted with arthritis, Hoffmann says
fitness walking can actually ease pain instead of cause it. "There is a
huge body of research that shows that the symptoms of arthritis are usually
relieved by walking, that if people will get up and get moving, they will find
that their joints will get better and they will be less stiff and less
At the other end of the spectrum, walking can also help meet
children's health needs, says Charles Corbin, MD, author of the NASPE's
physical activity guidelines. "Kids need to expend enough calories during
the day to maintain desirable weight," he says. "Plus, they need to
expend energy consistent with building bones and muscles for fitness and normal
growth and development."
The Basics of Fitness Walking
Most people may think they've mastered this skill at toddler
age, but certain steps apparently need to be taken in order to maximize the
health benefits of going by foot:
Timetable: The surgeon general recommends moderate
amounts of activities such as a brisk walk of at least 30 minutes a day every
day for overall health. The NASPE proposes that kids get more -- from 60
minutes up to several hours of physical activity (which includes walking) a day
-- on most, if not all days of the week. People looking to lose weight are
encouraged by the AARP to hit the pavement at least an hour a day for most
days. For heart, lung, and circulation health, the AHA suggests 30 minutes of
vigorous activity (including walking) a day, three to four times a week. Many
of these guidelines allow time requirements to be non-continuous, with bouts of
physical activity sprinkled throughout the day.