Recently a friend here on Bloom asked me for any advice to a beginner runner who is overweight. This is a question I get asked fairly often so I had a response prepared and, since so many people seem to have the same concern, Bloom has asked me to share my answer.
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Walking is a gentle, low-impact exercise that can ease you into a higher level of fitness and health. It’s one of your body’s most natural forms of exercise. Walking is safe because it rarely causes injuries when done correctly. Running causes more injuries because you take both feet off the ground at the same time and land with a tremendous force. When you walk, you always keep at least one foot on the ground and land with minimal foot strike force.
If you want to walk to become fit, you need to move quickly. You should exercise vigorously enough to increase your heart rate at least 20 beats a minute higher than when you rest. That means you will be breathing harder and probably perspire. There are two ways to increase your walking speed. You can either take longer steps or you can move your feet at a quicker rate. To lengthen your stride, swivel your hips so you reach out further forward with your feet. To move your feet at a quicker rate, move your arms faster. Every time you move one leg forward, your arm on the same side moves back and the arm on the other side moves forward. Your legs will only move as fast as you can move your arms.
Walking for fitness can help you achieve a number of important health benefits such as:
- Reducing your risk of a heart attack
- Managing your blood pressure
- Reducing your risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- Managing your diabetes if you all ready have it
- Managing your weight
- Managing stress and boosting your spirits
Wear good comfortable walking shoes that provide proper support and don’t cause blisters. You should wear loose fitting, comfortable, and protective clothing in layers to adjust to changing temperature. If walking early in the morning or at night, wear bright colors or reflective tape so that motorists can see you.
Spend about five minutes walking slowly to warm up your muscles. Warming up your muscles reduces your risk of injury. After warming up, stretch your muscles for about five minutes before walking. Include the calf stretch, quadriceps stretch, hamstring stretch, lower back flexion stretch and chest stretch.
Beginning Your Walking Workout
It’s a good idea to start slow by walking only as far as or as fast as you find comfortable. If you can walk for only a few minutes, let that be your starting point. Then, over several weeks’ time, you can gradually increase your distance and pace.
Use proper technique to avoid injury and setbacks. If your posture is poor or your movements exaggerated, you increase your risk of injury.
Measure the intensity of your workout. To find out if you’re exercising within the range of your target heart rate, stop exercising to check your pulse manually or wear an electronic device that displays your heart rate. Another simple way to measure your intensity is that you should be able to carry on a conversation with the person you’re walking with.
Keep track of your progress by keeping a record of how many steps you take, the distance you walk and how long it takes. Use an electronic device such as a pedometer or other high-tech device that uses GPS to calculate time and distance for you. You can record these numbers in a walking journal you create for yourself or log them in a spreadsheet on your computer.
Cool down after each walking session to reduce stress on your heart and muscles, end each walking session by walking slowly for about five minutes. Then, repeat your stretches.
To stay motivated find a walking partner or listen to music. Also be sure to vary your routine to prevent boredom.
Starting a walking for fitness routine takes initiative. Sticking with it takes commitment. But when you think of the potential health benefits, it’s well worth your effort.
11 Ways to Pump Up Your Walk
Let’s face it: Some of us aren’t runners. Nor do we want to be. Instead, we anti-runners can take to the streets and sidewalks for another form of cardio: Walking. Perfect for workout minimalists, walking takes almost no equipment — just good supportive shoes — and can be done anywhere. But if you’ve walked and walked and walked around the block so many times that you could do it in your sleep, blindfolded and blinded by your bored tears, you need to spice it up. Luckily there are numerous ways to keep your walking workout from getting stale. And if simply picking up the pace is no longer challenging you, here are a few ideas to spice it up and increase the burn!
- Add hills or stairs. Adding a vertical element to your walking regimen is a surefire way to increase the burn. Whether you’re walking up hills, staircases or bleachers, working against gravity will get your heart pumping and your buns firing. Pick a hilly neighborhood, use your office stairwell after hours or head to a high school or university football field to take advantage of the added challenge.
- Change up the pace. To prevent boredom and workout plateaus, start interspersing higher-intensity intervals with lower-intensity recovery periods. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) says that picking up your walking pace for a few minutes before returning to your usual speed increases the intensity and calorie-burning potential of your walk. So push yourself, recover, repeat.
- Change the scenery. If you’re used to walking around your block, get creative! Go to the mall, an outdoor track, a university campus, a beautiful new neighborhood, downtown — anywhere that will bust the boredome.
- Walk with a friend. If a change of scenery doesn’t make your workout more interesting, try bringing a friend along for the walk. You may end up walking farther and longer when you’re distracted by conversation. Plus, a little friendly competition is good for picking up the pace and pushing yourself harder, and you’ll be more likely to stick with a program if you do it with a friend or loved one.
- Get wet. Walk in the water at your local pool. Water adds extra resistance while being easy on the joints, so strap on a flotation belt and get splashing.
- Incorporate the kids. Whether you push a stroller or wear your child in a carrier, adding infants and small children to your walk both increases the resistance and gives you company on the walk.
- Use toning shoes. Toning shoes, unlike regular athletic shoes, have more rounded soles and extra cushioning to alter the wearer’s stride. Many of the toning shoe manufacturers claim that the altered gait increases the burn. Although an American Council on Exercise study showed that toning shoes don’t actually help wearers exercise more intensely, burn more calories or improve muscle strength and tone, if you’re bored with your regular shoes and want a little added interest to your walking routine, these shoes could be just the ticket — especially if they motivate you to hit the pavement.
- Do upper body work. Vigorously incorporate your upper body to increase the intensity of your walk. Pumping your arms briskly helps, plus products on the market today, like the Jyze, a lightweight toning device, or Nordic walking poles, also incorporate your arms and shoulders for a full-body walking workout. Many experts don’t recommend walking with weights because it can interfere with proper posture, but if you choose to walk with light weights, pay special attention to alignment. Better yet, set up a station with weights and use them when you take breaks from walking.
- Add headphones. To keep from getting bored, pump up the fast-paced tunes. Crank up your upbeat tunes (no slow, sappy stuff when you’re working out!) and walk to the beat. If you need a break from music, listen to podcasts or books on tape.
- Walk backwards. If you’re looking for a different point of view, walking backwards will definitely do the trick. In addition to requiring greater concentration, walking backwards also develops the hamstrings that run down the back of the thigh, helping to balance quadriceps muscles in the front of the thigh, which an Arthritis Foundation study showed may contribute to knee osteoarthritis in people with misaligned knees. Plus, it makes you stand up straighter and distributes your weight more evenly, which can lessen joint pain, according to Arthritis Today.
- Take it indoors. Hop on a treadmill while catching up on your latest TV addiction. Adjust the treadmill speed and incline manually, or choose a preset workout program on the treadmill to keep your body guessing.
As you can see, walking doesn’t have to be boring at all, and you’re only limited by your imagination! Incorporate one or two of these strategies the next time you go on a walk and it’ll seem like a fresh exercise routine you’ll want to continue.