Walking is the most flexible and uncomplicated of all exercise routines, and it can easily be accommodated to fit in with even the most demanding of lifestyles.
In our era of designer work-outs and depriving diets, walking may seem like an all-too-simple exercise routine. However, studies have proved that it is one of the most effective activities that can lead to sustained weight loss.
There are other benefits too. Research reveals that walking promotes healthy lungs, increases your blood circulation and even has the power to deter ailments such as high blood pressure, heart disease, Type-2 diabetes, [Read, Cover Story, in this issue], glaucoma, osteoporosis, gallstones, and cancer.
Walking is, in fact, the only cardiovascular activity that will not overtly strain the heart, while providing the stimulus required to getting it pumping in order to flush out extra fat. Walking also helps you enjoy better sleep; it boosts your memory too. It is also beneficial for people who suffer from back problems and cannot do aerobics, cycling, or other strenuous activities, to shed extra kilos.
Put simply, walking is the most ideal way to get back to shape, regardless of your age, or fitness levels.
The muscles situated in the leg are the largest muscle group of the body. Focusing on strengthening them will give you that toned-fit appearance. Medical researchers and specialists from the University Medical Centre, Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, have proved that regular, moderate physical activity, such as walking an hour every day, adds an average of 1.3 years to our lives. It’s also established that walking battles depression and assists in elevating one’s mood, resulting in mental and spiritual benefits as well.
Walking, for as little as 30 minutes a day, five hours a week, will enable you to reap long-term health benefits. However, if your intention is to drastically lose weight, you should adopt a more focused approach.
Perfect your technique
Walking is no longer considered a vague activity with no specific rules. Today, fitness experts worldwide have researched exactly how much and how long one should walk to achieve optimal fitness goals. An hour of concentrated walking [either outdoors, or on your treadmill] accounts for 6,000 steps for the average person. But, this can vary, depending on factors such as your age, height, gait, length of your stride and fitness levels.
In a study published in Sports Medicine, people who clocked 10,000 steps during the course of the day [two hours of walking] were considered to be “active.” This eventually leads to gradual weight loss, every month.
For any exercise to be effective, it needs to be high impact. You need to get your heart-rate pumping, so your breathing quickens and you start to build up a sweat.
For power walking, shorter, quicker steps are ideal. Fitness expert Ramesh Chinay says, “Try imagining that you are late for an important meeting. You should walk fast enough in order to be out-of-breath by the time you finish, but not so much that you gasp, or pant alarmingly.” A rule of the thumb is to ensure you are slightly out-of-breath, but can still comfortably carry on conversation.
As you walk, the heel of your foot should come into contact with the ground first. Allow your foot to roll smoothly over the surface, propelling you forwards in quick steps. If you must lengthen your stride, do so when your feet move behind you; not when you place them in front of you.
This will give your work-out a great deal of power and speed. Aerobics instructor and walking enthusiast, Kokila Ramani explains: “When the ball of your foot [the rounded portion, close to the heel] touches the ground first, it can support the weight of your body better than your toes, or instep. This ensures that you do not tire easily.”
A walker’s requirements are, indeed, minimal. All you need to invest in are a good pair of shoes – preferably double padded soles to cushion the impact of your feet jarring on gravel. This is very important in order to avoid knee problems, especially if you plan to walk long distances.
You should also consider re-vamping your wardrobe to include loose-fitting, cotton clothing that will allow your body to “breathe.” Some serious walkers may consider investing in a good pedometer – a small device that clocks and counts your footsteps. When tucked away under your belt, it can be an unobtrusive, but important, record of your walk-to-fitness achievements.
Set the pace
If you are a beginner, it is better to start walking on level ground. Aim to walk on gravel surfaces first, ensuring there are not too many bumps, or inclines. “Set a pace you can comfortably sustain for over an hour,” says Ashwini Amar, a fitness buff. There is no point in tiring yourself out the very first day; so, take a break every 15 minutes and slowly increase your uninterrupted walking sessions.
“When your body becomes more accustomed to your walking routine, this is the time to exercise caution.” Says Chiinoy: “This will put more pressure on your legs, causing you to build up muscle faster. You will burn a great deal of calories as well.”
“Tread” on a “mill”
If you crave privacy while exercising, you should consider investing in a single piece of equipment – a state-of-the-art treadmill. It comes with many advantages. You can set the pace and ensure it is regular throughout the session.
You can vary speeds and keep track of the distance covered and the calories you burn. Some treadmills even monitor pulse and heart-rates. This is useful for individuals with medical complaints. Remember never to hold the sides of the treadmill while walking, because this can ruin the toning and conditioning of your body during the work-out. Swing your arms and use them as a means of balancing yourself on the machine.
Walking with a friend, spouse, or relative, can help relieve you from the boredom of routine.
If you exercise indoors on a treadmill, add music or watch TV to liven up your work-out. But, make sure to leave your mobile phone behind, as answering will slow you down and decrease your heart rate.
You may have to wait a while to see actual results. But, when you do see a change, it will be long and lasting.
Every walking step will take you closer to a sound body in a sound mind.
Walking Made Simple
Be vigilant. Schedule your walks in the daytime, when there is plenty of light. Never walk after dark, especially in a neighbourhood you are not familiar with. Do not carry your purse/wallet or valuables with you. Pocket only a minimal amount of cash for emergencies.
Ensure a stress-free atmosphere. Do not walk in public places, or noisy streets, where you can be easily jostled around. Find a park or empty ground far from the crowd.
Build up a walking log. After every session, record the distance covered, the time it took you, and even different walker-friendly routes. At the end of the year, add the total number of hours spent walking and see if it has translated into significant weight loss, or toning of your physique. If you are particularly successful, you could even consider publishing your walking log to help others!
Post-exercise snack. After an hour of walking, your body is most prone to building muscle. Eating a high-protein snack at this point will be most beneficial for muscle growth and development. You could opt for a handful of nuts, grilled fish, cooked chana dal, low-fat paneer, soy or whole wheat, grilled vegetable sandwich.
Time for reflection and solitude. As you walk, clear your mind of unnecessary clutter. Take delight in thoughts that make you happy and put you at peace with yourself. Most importantly, allow the rhythm of your gait to relax and calm you.