Walking benefits most everybody, regardless of age. About 67 million men and women are walking regularly. Convinced that it is good exercise, they're making it a part of their daily routine. And their numbers are increasing every year, according to the Canadian Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
The benefits of walking, it seems, go on and on. The Canadian Podiatric Medical Association recommends walking to ward off a number of related ills. Following is a list of benefits:
- Strengthens your heart and lungs, and improves circulation.
- Reduces obesity and high blood pressure.
- Boosts your metabolic rate and lowers your cholesterol.
- Improves muscle tone.
- Reduces stress and tension.
- Reduces arthritis pain; stops bone tissue decay.
So let's talk about some of these benefits.
Walking actually strengthens your heart and lungs…thereby improving circulation. Your heart is a muscle, so it is increasing in strength just as leg muscles increase in strength when they work out.
Circulatory fitness is measured by how much oxygen you transport in your bloodstream to the muscles and how much of the oxygen the muscles use. The more fit you are, the more oxygen you can use (and the more calories you burn). By walking, you elevate your heart rate and, you teach the body how to use oxygen efficiently.
The work should feel like it is making you "warm and slightly out of breath." If you never take your heart rate but you feel warm and slightly out of breath during your walks, then you are in a good range says Richard Weil, exercise physiologist. Compared to rigorous sports such as racquetball or running, walking burns less, but it is an activity you can do on a regular basis.
Don't have a buddy that will team up with you? Well you can walk without one…and you can start at your front door. "It is far more effective in body endurance, tone and overall health to walk consistently than to have, say, a two hour racquetball game once a week," says Jim Cutenburg, a sport injury specialist.
Let's talk about the effects on your mental state! Did you know that walking and other exercise increases the blood flow to the brain? A study of people over 60 funded by the National Council on Aging, published in the July 29, 1999 issue of Nature, found that walking 45 minutes a day at 16-minute mile pace increased the thinking skills of those over 60. The participants started at 15 minutes of walking and built up their time and speed. The result was that the same people were mentally sharper after taking up this walking program.
Walking and other exercise leads to the release of the body's natural happy drugs - endorphins. Walkers who walk at a higher heart rate will notice this effect more than those who walk at a slower heart rate pace. But even at a slower pace, most people notice an improvement in mood.
Many physicians recommend adding regular walking and exercise as a natural treatment to relieve a bout of depression. The cause of depression is related to brain chemistry. By getting your brain to release more of the happy chemicals - the endorphins - you achieve naturally what many prescription drugs and herbs try to do.
So, how do you get started if you haven't, and how do you stick to a walking program? Give yourself some end results…says Sue Ward. Sue has been developing fitness programs, training clients, and teaching exercise classes since 1982 and serves as a member of the Program Director Committee for IDEA, the world's leading organization for health and fitness professionals.
"I encourage people to enter a road race. When people exercise with a purpose, they are more likely to stick to a program," says Sue. "Also, people can try to make it fun. Using a partner, meeting once a week to exercise together in a nice location such as along a beach, lakefront, park, et cetera." Check with your local recreation center…many have walking clubs or groups who meet regularly. The internet is also a great resource for finding walking locations, as well as organized road walks.
Now, when you are ready to begin, consider these walking tips from the Canadian Podiatric Medical Association:
- Move at a steady pace. Move briskly enough to make your heart beat faster.
- Breathe more deeply.
- Keep good posture. Walk with your head erect, back straight, abdomen flat.
- Swing your arms. Keep them relaxed, as they may increase your pace!
- Maintain proper foot motion. As you walk, land on the heel of your foot and roll forward to push off on the ball of your foot.
- Stay on level stretches. Avoid excessively steep hills and embanked roadways.
- Cool down. After a long, brisk walk this will help pump blood back up from your legs to where it's needed. Here's where some stretching exercises can be helpful.
So remember, you needn't be a natural born athlete to take up this beneficial sport. You can improve your health, your mental abilities, and enjoy this beautiful world of ours, just by putting one foot in front of the other. Happy walking to you!