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Why Fitness Walk? continued...

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 sore."

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.

Intensity: On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning relaxed and 10 thoroughly exhausted, Stein advises starting a walk at level 2 or 3, working up to level 6 to 8, and then cooling down to a 2. "The recommendation is the same for everyone," he says, "because as you get more and more fit, you actually end up having to walk faster or steeper to keep that 6 to 8 up."

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