Healthy Heart

Walk Your Way to a Healthy Life

Walking is one of the simplest forms of exercise and does not require any equipment, other than a pair of good shoes.

Julia Valentour, MS, exercise physiologist and program coordinator for the American Council on Exercise, suggests that exercise doesn't have to be hard to be very effective. If a 30-minute walking session is planned, it can even be broken down into two 15-minute sessions or three 10-minute sessions to suit a busy schedule. All that matters is that you get moving. 

Apart from weight management, walking is also helpful in bringing cholesterol levels down and reducing the risk of diabetes. It is also effective in improving bone strength and blood circulation. Taking a few extra steps every day is very helpful in developing a habit for a healthier life, says Timothy Gardner, MD, past president of the American Heart Association.

Consider the following:

  • If you are just starting a walking schedule after being sedentary, begin to walk three times a week for about 20 minutes a day, and gradually increase this up to five or six times a week.
  • Use both distance and time along with heart rate to figure out your best pace.
  • When checking your heart rate, remember that the traditional heart rate formula does not fit everyone. Courtenay Schurman, MS, CSCS, author of The Outdoor Athlete, says that most of the recommendations suggest starting at 70% to 75% of the maximum heart rate. This may not be the same for everybody, especially if a person is already very fit.

Use the talk test to gauge the intensity. If you can chat briefly, the exercise is in the aerobic zone. If you are gasping for air, the intensity of the workout should be reduced slightly. If you can speak several phrases without any problem, the intensity may have to be increased.

Stay motivated

  • Wear a pedometer – Increase the number of steps gradually by as little as 500-step increments.
  • Maintain a walking journal – Maintaining a journal for walking sessions helps you see your improvement and can motivate you to do more, and keep your habits.
  • Walk with a partner – This is to add accountability as nobody would want to let the other person down. A partner can help make walking a regular habit. 
  • Sign up for a charity walk – This is a goal-based program and helps you to stick with it.

Make it more challenging

  • Speed up – Walk faster or try brisk walking, as it burns more calories. Brisk walking at four miles an hour can burn up to 334 calories while strolling at three miles an hour burns 220 calories.
  • Walk up hills – This increases the intensity, just like lifting the inclination on a treadmill. If you are on a treadmill, walk up with an inclination without hanging on to the equipment.
  • Change the surface – Changing the surface of walking gives a greater challenge than waking constantly on the same grounds.
  • Use Nordic poles – This involves more of upper body movement. Using poles increases the cardiac workout while it takes off the stress when you are downhill.
  • Add resistance – Have a weighted backpack or weight vest. Be sure the weight is uniformly distributed without affecting the gait and not making it prone to injuries.

Tips for safety

  • Have a walking buddy, if possible
  • Have a medical bracelet if you have diabetes, an allergy, or other conditions
  • Let your friends and family know the route you take
  • Carry a cell phone
  • Avoid deserted places
  • Walk against oncoming traffic, if possible
  • Wear reflective material so that others can spot you easily