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Walking for fitness.

In case you aren't acquainted with fitness walking for exercise, it's the act of walking as fast as you can. To derive fitness and health benefits, you need to walk for 20 to 60 minutes at a time, at least twice a week; devotees walk daily. As physical exercise, it has much going for it.

You can work up a sweat, breathe hard, and benefit your circulatory system, all with a much reduced probability of damaging your joints (compared with the likelihood in jogging). You don't need coaching or training. You don't need a gym, court, pool, ball, bat, racket, bicycle, or any other equipment. All you need are comfortable clothes and a properly cushioned pair of shoes.

Also, walking allows you to see and sense the region you pass through more thoroughly than you can while running, bicycling, or driving.

What mainly sets running and walking apart is that runners' knees are bent when their feet hit the ground, but walkers' legs are straight. Here's how speed compare: earnest fitness walking, 4 mph; average jogging, 7 mph; Olympic racewalking, 9 mph; and 4-minute-mile running, 15 mph.

Why walk?

How far? How fast?

Most readers see fitness walking as an alternative to jogging or biking in order to maintain physical fitness. Many started for the specific purposes of losing and maintaining weight, or to strengthen back muscles in order to prevent a recurrence of back trouble. Many are former runners who--because they are concerned about continuing wear on the skeletal system--switched to walking.

Although fitness walkers do it primarily for the exercise, they are also able to enjoy some extras, such as sightseeing or neighborhood-watching. Another reason to walk, mentioned repeatedly, is companionship. Walking allows conversation better than jogging and running do.

For some, getting out of the house is reason enough. A Sacramento walker says, "I used to get very depressed in the gloomy Valley winters, not seeing sunshine for days at a time. But I've found that when I bundle up and get out in the weather, it does something positive for my outlook. I no longer feel like a hibernating bear."

Exercising the dog can also be an incentive to walk. But this can bring up a whole set of potentially problematic social situations: dog meets another dog, dog meets cat, dog meets other walkers and runners. And you may need to slow down to pick up after you dog.

Some readers even collect and bag trash as they walk. Although they lose some benefits of fitness walking, they probably make up for it in satisfaction and exercise of muscles used to bend over.

A quarter of our walker-readers walk daily. More than hald do it five or more days a week. The distances they cover range from 1 1/2 to 12 miles, with by far the largest number walking from 2 to 4 miles on each walk. They clock themselves at 3 to 6 mph, with most walking at 4 mph. That speed is the standard to derive aerobic benefit.

How far fitness walkers go is often determined more by available time than by a set distance. Many squeeze a daily walk into a lunch hour, or walk before or after work. Most Sunset walkers can spare only an hour, and go as far as they can.

How to walk?

How to warm up?

When you stride out, keep your chin up, jaw parallel to the ground. Keep your body straight (not leaning forward). Walk as fast as you can, arriving at your own pattern for stride length. Keep your elbows bent at 90[degrees], and swing them as you walk. (Some fitness walkers simply prefer to leave their arms straight and swing them in a large arc.)

Here are three common ways to maintain a pace that's fast enough to yield aerobic benefits.

-- Maintain a pulse rate in your target heart range. To find the correct range for you, see this formula: subtract your age from 220, then calculate 70 and 85 percent of the result.

-- Use a stopwatch (see page 93 to read about this watch feature).

-- Listen to music with a helpful beat.

Experts recommend that fitness walkers warm up and cool down with four stretches done before and after each walk, and daily when you don't walk.

For the shin. Sit in a straight chair, stretch our one leg, and rotate the ankle in large circles. Repeat four times in each direction; switch legs and repeat. Do the exercise several times with each leg.

For the calf. Face the wall, several feet from it, and lean against it, keeping one foot flat on the floor (hook the other foot over the ankel). Hold for 20 seconds. Alternate legs, repeating four times for each.

For the quadriceps. Stand facing a wall. With one hand on the wall for balance, grab one ankle and pull your foot up behind you as far as you can. Hold 20 seconds. Alternate legs, repeating four times for each.

For the hamstring. Prop a foot on a chair, keeping the raised leg straight. Lean forward, moving both hands as far toward the ankle as possible. Hold 20 seconds. Alternate legs, repeating four times each.

Asphalt, soil, or


You'll probably walk on one of these surfaces. Each has its own characteristics. Readers' responses were consistent: asphalt is most favored, concrete the least.

Asphalt is usually smooth and level, and it gives somewhat underfoot.

Soil gives or yields to the foot. But often it is so bumpy or irregular (and sometimes wet and puddled) that you have to keep your eyes on the ground rather than on the surroundings.

Concrete is generally smooth and level, so you don't have to keep your eyes on it as you walk. But it does not give or yield to the foot (namely the heel) at all.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Sunset Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Williamson, Joseph F.
Date:Feb 1, 1992
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