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Begin a fitness walking program

By Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., and Rita La Rosa Loud, B.S.

gettyimages-471861809-keep-it-fun-susan-chiangYou may remember the jogging phenomenon of the 1970’s, which led to a major increase in adult exercise participation.  Men and women of all ages were encouraged to run within their own ability range and to race within their own age category.  Friendly fun runs along scenic courses followed by picnics and awards distributions motivated thousands of previously sedentary adults to engage in purposeful physical activity.
However, in spite of the healthful benefits to the cardiovascular system, jogging was responsible for a large number of musculoskeletal injuries.  Two out of every three runners experienced foot problems, knee problems, hip problems, back problems or other running-related injuries.  Many of these injuries were the result of the constant pounding and shock absorption inherent in running.  For example, every time your foot hits the ground, your leg is subjected to about three times your body weight in landing forces.
Therein lies the major advantage of walking, and the main reason that walking has become the most popular fitness activity of the 21st century.  Walkers always have one foot in contact with the ground, which significantly reduces landing forces, shock absorption and injury occurrence.  In fact, regular and serious walkers have a very low incidence of injuries and a surprisingly high level of cardiovascular fitness.
Planned and progressive walking for the purpose of enhancing physical capacity is most often referred to as fitness walking.  Please don’t confuse fitness walking with taking your dog to the park, playing18 holes of golf, shopping at the mall or a strolling around the neighborhood.  All of these represent healthful physical activities that use energy, burn calories, and cause a degree of fatigue.  Unfortunately, they are generally not vigorous enough or continuous enough to have a major impact on your fitness level.
UnknownFor physical conditioning, you must walk at a pretty good pace without interruptions for a period of about 20-40 minutes.  Of course, how fast and how far you walk depends on your current fitness ability.  Ideally, your heart rate should reach about 70 percent of maximum, which is approximately 100-120 heart beats per minute for our age group.  Please check with your physician with respect to your recommended level of exercise intensity.
As a general guideline for beginning a walking program, consider starting with just 10 minutes of steady walking at a moderate effort. Progressively increase your walking pace and distance. I suggest adding 5 minutes of fitness walking every week, with a goal of walking approximately two miles in 40 minutes within two months of regular training.  For best results try to follow these general training recommendations:
1). Walk three to six days per week.
2). Begin and conclude each walking session with a few bending and stretching          exercises.
3). Do not walk immediately after a large meal.
4). Wear loose fitting and non-restrictive clothing.
5). Wear appropriately designed walking or jogging shoes.
6). If possible, vary your walking courses and walk with a friend.
Like any popular fitness activity, walking has its own sport-specific footwear.  Specially designed walking shoes are attractive, durable, and add an extra measure of protection with regards to injury prevention.  However, it is probably not necessary to purchase the most expensive pair of walking shoes unless you are walking long distances on varied terrains.
Although walking is the most natural physical activity, be assured that fitness walking, when performed properly, progressively and regularly, is an excellent exercise option that provides many health benefits. Do observe and enjoy the beautiful foliage this month.
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About the Authors
Wayimg_7761ne L. Westcott, Ph.D., teaches exercise science at Quincy College and consults for the South Shore YMCA.  He has authored 28 books on fitness. Rita La Rosa Loud, B.S., directs the Community Health and Fitness Center at Quincy College that is open to all South Shore residents.

Reprinted from the October 2017 edition of the South Shore Senior News.

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