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Better walking workouts.

Of all fitness activities, walking is the easiest, safest, and cheapest (you need no equipment except comfortable shoes). It's also easy on your knees, ankles, and back. Briskly walking one mile at 3.5 to 4 miles per hour burns nearly as many calories as running it at a moderate pace, and confers similar fitness benefits. A long-term program of walking can help you stay healthy and live longer. Indeed, the American Heart Association now classifies physical inactivity as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease on a par with smoking and high blood pressure. A walking program is the easiest way to become active. As an adjunct to a low-fat diet, walking is a good way to lose weight. It also aids in strengthening bones and thus may help prevent or minimize osteoporosis. Even strolling or slow walking (about 2 miles per hour) may confer some health benefits. Walking is pleasurable, alone with or with a companion. Few devotees ever get tired of it and quit. And while it's not injury-proof, the injury rate is very low.

It's easy to vary your walking routine--for fun and for greater fitness benefits.

1. Walk up and down hills.

Combine hill walking with your regular flat-terrain walking as a form of interval training. You can vary the intensity of your workouts by walking briskly on level ground, then taking to the hills, and finishing again on the flats. When walking uphill, try leaning forward slightly--it's easier on your leg muscles. Walking downhill, contrary to what you might think, can be harder on your body than walking uphill, because the downhill road can jar your joints, especially the knees, and cause muscle soreness. It may be tempting to speed downhill, but in fact it's a good idea to slow your pace slightly and take shorter steps. That way, you're less likely to end up with sore knees. Walking uphill, by the way, burns more calories. If you weigh 150 pounds, walking at 3.5 miles an hour on flat terrain burns about 300 calories per hour. At the same pace on a gentle incline (a 4% grade), you burn almost 400 calories per hour. On a slightly steeper incline (an 8% grade), you burn nearly 500. If you're walking on a treadmill, you can elevate the grade mechanically. Whenever you intensify your workout, do so gradually.

2. Choose varied terrains.

Walking on grass or a gravel trail burns more calories than walking on a track. And walking on soft sand increases your caloric expenditure by almost 50%, provided you can maintain your normal pace.

3. Let your elbows do some walking.

By swinging your arms, you'll burn 5 to 10% more calories and get an upper-body workout as well. Move your arms in opposition to your legs--swing your right arm forward as you step forward with your left leg. This arm movement helps counterbalance the motion of your legs. As you increase your pace, switch to pumping your arms: bend your elbows at a 90[degrees] angle and pump from the shoulder instead of the elbow joint. (This is similar to the arm position in racewalking--see page 5.) Keep your wrists straight. To reduce fatigue, keep your hands unclenched. Swing your arms in a small arc: your elbow should come to about the middle of your chest and as far back as your buttock.

4. Try striding.

Lengthen your stride, swing your extended arms freely with increasing vigor, and aim for a faster pace (about 4.5 miles per hour)--this is called striding. As your pace increases, your feet will land closer to an imaginary center line stretching in front of you.

5. Do some retro walking.

Like running in reverse, walking backward has a lot to offer. Besides providing a change of pace, retro walking helps strengthen the abdominal and back muscles, the quadriceps (muscles in front of the thigh), and the hamstrings (at the back of the thigh). In addition, if you're recovering from a leg or ankle injury, retro walking is less stressful than forward motion. But you must take some precautions, too. Choose a smooth surface, such as a track. In any case, don't walk backward where there is automobile traffic or where you might run into a tree or another pedestrian. A partner who walks forward is useful as a guide, and then you can switch off. Start slowly to keep your calves from getting sore. Don't walk more than a quarter of a mile backward the first week. And use the technique only for variety: it doesn't provide as good a workout as brisk forward walking.

6. Take up waterwalking.

Waterwalking started as rehabilitative therapy for people with injuries, and soon was recognized as a boon for everybody. You can waterwalk anywhere--along a lakeshore or beach or in a pool--without getting your hair wet or even knowing how to swim. If you walk at a steady pace, you can burn 300 to 500 calories per hour. Deep water provides more resistance, but you may do better in waist-high water since you won't tire so easily. Shallow water is okay, too--just walk faster and longer. Because of the water's resistance, you don't have to walk as fast in water as you would on land to burn the same number of calories. Walking two miles per hour in thigh-high water is the equivalent of walking three miles per hour on land. If you take a friend along, waterwalking can be a sociable activity.

7. Try pole walking.

To enhance your upper-body workout while walking, use lightweight, rubber-tipped walking poles, sold in many sporting-goods stores. Think of this form of walking as cross-country skiing without the skis. When you step forward with the left foot, the right arm with the pole comes forward and is planted on the ground, about even with the heel of the left foot. This novelty, which is fun when you get used to it, works the muscles or your chest and arms as well as some abdominals. Find the right size poles by testing them in the store: you should be able to grip the pole and keep your forearm about level as you walk.

8. Skip elevators and escalators.

Take the stairs. Walking up several flights of stairs every day is great exercise, since your legs lift the entire weight of your body at every step. It burns extra calories, and provides an extra workout for your leg muscles. If you work or live on a high floor, get off a few floors below and walk up the last flights. Or you can, of course, also use stair-climbing machines, which are now found in most health clubs.

9. Use hand weights--with care.

Holding hand weights while you walk can boost your heart rate and caloric expenditure, but their use remains controversial. They may alter your arm swing and thus lead to muscle soreness or even injury. They're generally not recommended for people with high blood pressure or heart disease. If you want to use them, start with one-pound weights and increase them gradually. The weights shouldn't add up to more than 10% of your body weight. Ankle weights are not recommended, as they increase the chance of injury.

10. Step up the pace with racewalking.

Racewalking, a great calorie burner, turns walking into a sport. The object of racewalking is to move your body ahead as quickly as possible without running and to avoid the up/down motions of regular walking. You accomplish this with a forward-thrusting hip-swivel, which is meant to propel you more efficiently than the normal side-to-side swing of the hips. Here's how to start:

* Think of racewalking as walking a tightrope. In normal walking your feet make parallel tracks, but in racewalking you put one foot down in front of the other, almost in a straight line. Because of anatomical differences, this form may not be completely achievable for everyone. Come as close to it as you can.

* Swing your hip forward as you step forward--it's the hips and legs that act as the propulsive force.

* Your feet should stay close to the ground, with no wasted motion. Each foot should strike the ground solidly on the back of the heel with the toes pointed up slightly. Two rules of competitive racewalking are that one foot must always be on the ground, and your legs must be straight at one point in the cycle.

* Use long strides. Your motion should be fluid, efficient, and smooth.

* Bend your arms at a 90[degrees] angle, and keep your wrists straight. With the motion coming from the shoulder, not the elbow, pump your arms rhythmically with your leg motion. When you pump back, your hand should come about six inches behind the hip, while on the swing forward the wrist should be near the center of your chest. Keep your hands above your hips. The vigorous arm pumping counterbalances your leg/hip motion, allows for a quick pace, and provides a good workout for your upper body.

* Keep your torso, shoulders, and neck relaxed. Don't bend from the waist--this can lead to back strain. Some racewalkers angle their whole bodies forward slightly.

Since technique is important, you will need practice. If there's an experienced racewalker around who can give you pointers, so much the better. Start with the leg movement first, build up some speed, and then incorporate the arm motion. See what a difference it makes to have your arms bent 90[degrees] instead of hanging at your sides. Your pace should quicken automatically as you learn to use your arms. Start slowly and increase your pace gradually. Try interval walking--that is, racewalk for a few minutes, then do normal brisk walking. Pause occasionally to check your heart rate.
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Publication:The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Words:1627
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