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Taking exercise in stride.

Cardiologist James Rippe prescribes this simple two-step plan to people who want to feel better and reduce their risk of heart disease: Eat cereal with skim milk for breakfast, then go out for a 15-minute walk.

"You don't have to turn your life upside down to do things that have a profound impact on how happy, productive, and healthy you are," says Rippe, director of the exercise physiology laboratory at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. "Exercise doesn't have to be something tough and sweaty and separate that you do. Like brushing your teeth or taking a shower, exercise can fit into your daily routine as general maintenance for your body."

Which is why, he says, America is out walking.

More than 77 million Americans now walk for fitness, and new studies show that this easy, natural activity can provide powerful health benefits including reduced anxiety, weight loss, improved cholesterol profile, aid in controlling hypertension, slowing the process of osteoporosis, and decreasing the risk of heart disease.

"We haven't seen the peak of the walking movement yet," says Rippe, whose lab is the largest walking experimentation facility in the world. "As the population gets older, more people will turn to walking because it's nearly injury-free. We'll see families walking together, talking with each other, and taking care of their health at the same time."

But despite walking's growing popularity, many sophisticated exercisers look down on it as a moderate, non-aerobic exercise.

"This is unfortunate," Rippe says, "since the efficacy of fitness walking as an aerobic training exercise is much greater than many people thought in the past.

"In studies in our laboratory of more than 600 people between the ages of 20 and 79, more than 90 percent of women and 67 percent of men, regardless of their age or previous level of conditioning, were able to elevate their heart rate into the target training zone with brisk walking."

For most people, he says, walking is also the preferred way to lose weight. "The average 150-pound person burns approximately 100 calories walking a mile. If you take a brisk 45-minute walk four times a week for a year, and don't increase the amount of food you eat, you will burn enough calories to lose 18 pounds. More important, virtually all of the weight lost will be fat, because regular exercise preserves lean muscle mass."

In fact, fast walking can burn more calories than running.

"At about five miles per hour (12-minute miles), walkers start to use more oxygen and burn more calories than joggers going the same speed," says Casey Meyers, author of Aerobic Walking.

"From that point on, if a walker and a runner maintain the same speed, the walker's oxygen consumption and caloric expenditure rise faster than the runner's as his speed increases."

The reason for this phenomenon is gait efficiency.

"Running is simply easier and more efficient than walking at high speeds," Meyers says. "Imagine a walker and a jogger exercising side-by-side at an 11-minute-per-mile pace. The walker will burn more calories, use more oxygen, and have a higher heart rate than the jogger simply because walking at that speed is a very inefficient gait and requires more energy."

Meyers divides walking intensity levels into four groups:

Strolling--3 mph (20-minute mile or faster), low intensity.

Brisk--4 mph (15-minute mile or faster), moderate intensity.

Aerobic--5 mph (12-minute mile or faster), high intensity.

Racewalking--6 mph (10-minute mile or faster), very high intensity.

High-intensity walking will strengthen the heart and burn calories in the minimum amount of time, but moderate-intensity walking still provides significant health and weight-loss benefits, too.

"A lot of people don't like flailing their arms and moving so fast," says Rob Sweetgall, who has walked the perimeter of America (10,608 miles) and all 50 states (11,208) to inspire people to walk for health. "So I tell people not to get hung up on speed. It's more important that you just get out there and walk every day at a moderate pace you can enjoy. Because if you don't enjoy it, you won't do it."

Finding an easy, enjoyable exercise would be a great boon to the 80 percent of adults who exercise sporadically or not at all, says Rippe, since studies show that the most benefit from activity comes to previously sedentary people who start moving.

"That's why I feel that the average person is clearly better off walking than running, because most people can't--or don't want to--run," he says. "You've got to find something that people can do and will like doing, which for most people is walking."

At the speeds most people walk (about 15 to 20 minutes per mile) or run (about 8 to 12 minutes per mile), Rippe says, "running will burn about 20 percent more calories than walking."

But he cautions against picking an exercise solely on the basis of calories burned. "If you prefer running, great, then run," he says. "If you like walking, walk."

"The most important thing is to find and activity you like and make it a part of your life," he says. "Every day. It isn't magic and it isn't complicated. But it works."
COPYRIGHT 1992 Saturday Evening Post Society
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Krucoff, Carol
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:May 1, 1992
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