Health Benefits of Walking for Fitness

With so many different fitness programs from which to choose, walking — something that most of us do all the time — is rising in popularity as a fitness routine. Why? Because it is easy to do, it is free, and the only equipment required is a good pair of sneakers.

Walking offers the same advantages that are available with aerobics or Pilates. Some of those advantages include burning calories and controlling weight, lowering the risk of heart disease and reducing stress. All it takes is good preparation and a good walking plan as well as motivation.

Benefits
Walking is overall a safe, low-impact exercise that can maintain or improve health. For example, it can reduce or manage blood pressure, therefore reducing the risk of having a heart attack. According to MayoClinic.com, walking keeps the heart healthy by lowering the LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol, otherwise known as the “bad” cholesterol, and by raising HDL (high-density lipoprotein) levels, or the “good” cholesterol. Keeping LDL levels down is necessary to avoid cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, therefore prolonging life. Another health benefit includes lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes, because walking improves the body’s ability to process sugar to help control the disease and avoid other problems associated with it, such as heart disease, high blood pressure or kidney failure.

Additionally, walking burns calories to assist with weight loss or weight management. Research shows walking more than 10,000 steps daily produces lower levels of body fat than those who are less active. Pedometers, which are attached to the waistband or belt, are helpful devices in tracking the number of steps made, the distance walked or run, as well as calories burned. Walking is a great way to stay active and strong, as it can prevent falls, raise mobility, increase bone strength and improve energy and cardiovascular endurance. Not only does walking improve physical health, but it also helps to boost mental health. For instance, taking a short, brisk walk during the middle of the day can reduce stress at work. Research performed by the American College of Sports Medicine also notes that long and short bouts of brisk walking can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.

Avoid Setbacks through Preparation
It is easy to start a walking program, but improper technique or poor posture can lead to injuries such as blisters on the feet, joint and muscle pain. For starters, choose comfortable, loose-fitting clothing that is appropriate for the weather and regulates body temperature. If walking at night, wear brighter clothes or reflective tape for motorists to see. Warming up for about five minutes is also necessary to condition the muscles. The American Council on Exercise recommends walking around the house or in place to get the blood flowing to the muscles before stretching. Include stretches for the calves, quadriceps, hamstring, lower back and chest to loosen any tension, make the walk more enjoyable and effective, and reduce injury.

Getting Started
From beginner to advanced walker, it is important to start slowly and to walk at a comfortable pace to achieve success. The American Council on Exercise and MayoClinic.com offer these tips for getting started:

  • Start by walking short distances. Walk as far and fast as possible for as little as five to ten minutes at a time and gradually increase your distance, ranging anywhere from 15 minutes twice a week up to 30 minutes for five days a week.
  • Practice proper walking technique. Don’t exaggerate your movements or use poor posture as they can increase injury. Hold your head high, move shoulders and arms freely and naturally, tighten the stomach muscles and keep feet parallel to the ground.
  • Test the intensity. Measure the intensity level while walking to determine whether to speed up or slow down. Walking offers the flexibility to vary or increase the intensity, such as lengthening the stride and walking up hills, which tests endurance and even tones the legs. Check your pulse at your wrist or neck, or wear an electronic monitor to ensure that you are working in your target heart rate. Another common way to measure intensity is the talk test. If you can carry a conversation with someone while walking, then you are doing well. If not, then you may be overdoing it.

Also, keep in mind to cool down after each session by walking slowly for five about minutes and repeating your stretches. The cool down, like the warm up, is important for reducing stress in the heart and muscles.

Get Motivated and Start Walking
After picking a regular walking plan, it is important to stay motivated and committed to this workout. To get the fun out of walking and to feel invigorated, try to set a daily personal goal of walking between ten and 30 minutes in the morning or in the evening, or during any breaks throughout the day. If preferred, listen to music or walk with a spouse, friend or coworker to make the exercise more fun. For those who get bored easily, add some variety by changing the walk route, or, in case of inclement weather, use a treadmill at home or at a gym to substitute.

Walking is a growing activity because it offers various options for changing the intensity, it can be done anywhere and it is easy to incorporate into anyone’s schedule. There are no hard-and-fast rules for what the duration of the walk workout should be; it is more important to find a plan that fits, have fun while doing it and stay on the path to better health.

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