The Benefits of Fitness Walking
Anna Cottrill says she doubts she would be mobile today if she had not insisted on her daily strolls. The 66-year-old has had osteoarthritis in her lower spine since 1979, even once unable to take a step for six months. Her ailment, however, hasn't flared up since she started her regular jaunts.
The Fort Worth, Texas, grandmother joined up with a walking group known as the American Volkssport Association (AVA) and soon became highly involved with the organization and its affiliates. She is now co-president of the Tarrant County Walkers, and is second vice president of the Texas Volkssporting Association. (For the unaware, volkssporting is a German-derived term describing participation in sports such as walking, swimming, skiing, snowshoeing, and biking. In Cottrill's case, the sport is obviously walking.)
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.
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.