Walking is undoubtedly one of the most relaxing and refreshing forms of exercise and reaps numerous physical, emotional and psychological benefits. Research findings demonstrate that you can achieve significant improvement in your cardio-respiratory fitness by walking for 30 minutes daily at a moderate pace, or taking brisk walks three to four days a week.
A moderate pace is one at which you may be breathing a little harder than usual but are able to keep up a full conversation. During a brisk walk, you would only be able to speak in short sentences.
Walking the talk
Walking comes easily to most of us and has less impact on the joints compared to other exercises. Fast walking or race walking does great things for the body. It helps us burn the highest amount of calories per minute compared to almost any other exercise including cycling, squash, rowing, golf, gardening, etc.
Walking increases aerobic fitness and the level of good cholesterol (HDL), detoxifies the body (through sweating), improves micro circulation in your lungs and brain, and tones up the endocrine system. Race walking is as good as running but causes far less wear and tear on the body. It protects your body from diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease.
Walking is an inexpensive workout for the entire body that helps you tone and trim, even as you improve your ability to make decisions, solve problems, and focus. Even a short, 15-minute walk can improve your brain’s functioning. Studies show that walking two and a half hours a week (and hence losing about seven per cent of your body weight) can reduce your risk of diabetes by 58 per cent, and three hours of walking a week is associated with decreased risk of heart disease.
Walking and weight loss
Combine walking and running if you want to lose weight. When you walk to warm up and then run until you tire and then drop back into a walk, you will find that the ratio between the two changes until you are running more than you are walking.
You have to run or race walk long enough to get to the fat breakdown phase of exercise. Initially you will use up liver and muscle glycogen as fuel but after that the body will draw upon its fat stores for fuel. Once you start burning fat your body continues to do so even after you stop exercising.
Whether you’re already into the walking habit or you’d like to begin now, these practical tips can help you get the most from your workout:
Remember to include a warm-up before you enter the intensive phase of your workout, and a cool-down before the end of your workout. A warm-up of five to ten minutes at low intensity will prepare your muscles for exercise and up your heart rate.
For best cardiovascular benefits, aim for 20 to 40 minutes of moderate intensity, apart from the time you spend in warm-up and cool-down. At this duration, your body burns through its available glycogen reserves and begins to burn stored fat, an effective tool in the process of weight management.
If you are walking for your aerobic fitness, work on increasing the number of minutes in each session. A general rule of thumb is to increase the duration by 10 per cent every week.
Once you are walking with good posture and form for 40 minutes at a time, increase the intensity by adding speed, hills (inclined surfaces), or intervals.
A normal walking motion uses the arms to counterbalance the leg motion. The ideal posture would be to bend your arms 90 degrees and swing them naturally back and forth opposite the leg motion.
Always look up or right ahead (with your chin parallel to the ground) while walking, as this posture allows you to breathe well and prevent possible back, neck and shoulder problems.
So make sure you include walking in your list of New Year’s resolution. Stay healthy!
Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre