Saturday, 24 May 2014

Want to go for a walk? The LG&H guide to getting started.

Today, I want to encourage you all to think about doing more walking. Its a terrific form of exercise and something that more of us should be doing more of. Walking is free, its enjoyable, its relatively easy on the joints, it suits all fitness levels (you can go at your own pace) it can be a solitary or group activity however you choose, and with the use of gyms, treadmills, shopping centres and the like, it can be done in all weather. More importantly, walking will decrease your risk of heart disease, diabetes (and improve it if you already have it) and even reduce your risk of developing many cancers. Pretty incredible results just for putting one foot in front of the other, huh? I guess there's a bit more to it than that. So lets cover some of the basics.

Why should I walk?
Some of the benefits include: 
  • Increased cardiovascular and pulmonary (heart and lung) fitness
  • Reduced risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Improved management of conditions such as hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, joint and muscular pain or stiffness, and diabetes
  • Stronger bones and improved balance
  • Increased muscle strength and endurance
  • Reduced body fat.

What gear do I need?
I guess the one most important piece of equipment you need are a good pair of shoes.Walking is gentler on your joints than many other sports, but if you are going to clock up some miles you should look at investing in appropriate footwear. See a specialist shoe shop and get fitted for some good quality walking shoes. Other than that some comfortable clothes, a water bottle and if you are planning on walking at or near dark, some safety equipment (lights or high vis gear) are worth considering.  Some people use a pedometer when they walk - you certainly don't need to, but they can be fun and quite motivating. A pedometer measures the number of steps you take. You can use it to measure your movement throughout a day and compare it to other days or to recommended amounts. This may motivate you to move more. The recommended number of steps accumulated per day to achieve health benefits is 10,000 steps or more.

How long should I walk for? 
To quote directly from Australia's physical activity guidelines:
"Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. If you currently do no physical activity, start by doing some, and gradually build up to the recommended amount. Be active on most, preferably all, days every week. Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes (2 ½ to 5 hours per week) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours per week) of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week. Do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week."

So in relation to walking we are aiming to get to a point where you are walking an hour a day at least 5 days a week or so. But clearly, you may not be able to just step out the door and walk for an hour, you'll need to work up to that. The Mayo Clinic has written an excellent 12 week walking plan to get someone from a standing start up to a walking pace. The basic details are as follows:

  • Try to walk at least five times each week. Always start with a five-minute, slower paced walk to warm up and end with a five-minute, slower paced walk to cool down.
  • Start at a pace that's comfortable for you. Then gradually pick up speed until you're walking briskly — the equivalent of 3.5 miles an hour. You should be breathing hard, but still able to carry on a conversation. Each week, add two minutes to your walking time.

WeekWarm-upBrisk walkingCool-down
15 minutes5 minutes5 minutes
25 minutes7 minutes5 minutes
35 minutes9 minutes5 minutes
45 minutes11 minutes5 minutes
55 minutes13 minutes5 minutes
65 minutes15 minutes5 minutes
75 minutes18 minutes5 minutes
85 minutes20 minutes5 minutes
95 minutes23 minutes5 minutes
105 minutes26 minutes5 minutes
115 minutes28 minutes5 minutes
125 minutes30 minutes5 minutes
Do I need to get a check up before I start?
Walking at this level should be manageable for most people, but its always recommended that you talk with your doctor if you've been sedentary for a long time or you have serious health issues.

How do I keep it interesting and fun?
Some suggestions to help make regular walking a pleasurable form of physical activity include varying where you walk, walking the dog, walking with friends and joining a walking club.  If you want to stick close to home and limit your walking to neighbourhood streets, pick different routes so you don’t get tired of seeing the same sights.  If you feel unsafe walking alone, find one or more friends or family members to walk with.
Walk at various times of the day. The sights to see first thing in the morning are bound to be different from those of the afternoon or early evening.  Drive to different reserves, park the car and enjoy the views while you walk.  Use music to keep you occupied (but always remember your personal safety when using headphones)

Will I lose weight?
An interesting question, and the answer depends on a few factors. Walking has known health benefits that are well established and any increased activity will improve your health, no matter what the scales say. If you are walking without making any changes to your nutrition, then you may not lose much weight at all. Our lifestyles are generally so sedentary these days that for most people walking an hour a day just serves to counteract all the sitting we do, but doesn't necessarily counteract a poor diet. To give you some perspective - while caloric burn varies according to a person's age, body size and fitness, it could take something like 3 hours of walking to counteract the calories from one take away hamburger. I've said it before and I'll repeat it here: you can't outrun (our outwalk) a bad diet. BUT if you are making changes to your eating habits as well, then walking can make a big difference to your waist line as well as your fitness. That extra few hundred calories a day will speed up the process for you and as you get fitter and stronger you'll be more motivated. But be patient and be realistic.  Remember that this is all about making healthy lifestyle changes- focus on the journey, focus on making healthy habits every day, eating well, sleeping well, walking daily, and let the pounds and kilograms take care of themselves. 

Can I just keep doing this?
Our body tends to get used to physical activity, so continue to increase your intensity as you are able to improve your fitness levels. You can increase the intensity of your walks by: 
  • Walking up hills
  • Walking with hand weights
  • Increasing your walking speed gradually by including some quick walking (walk as fast as you can to the next lamp post and then relax until the next one and so forth)
  • Increasing the distance you walk quickly before returning to a moderate walking pace
  • Walking for longer
  • Add lunges, squats, pushups or other muscle strengthening exercises to your routine
Is walking enough?
If you sit for much of the day for work or leisure, there are significant risks for your health. Some have even called sitting "the new smoking". Apart from doing obvious things to break up your sitting, any increased incidental exercise is good for you. Here's some more ideas: 
  • Take the stairs instead of the lift (for at least part of the way).
  • Get off public transport one stop earlier and walk to work or home.
  • Do housework like vacuuming (turn the music up and work up a sweat)
  • Walk (don’t drive) to the local shops.
  • Walk the dog (or your neighbour’s dog).
If you need help with any of this information, see your doctor or an exercise physiologist for more guidance.


Lyndal @ Lean Green and Healthy

For more information:
Better Health Channel Victoria: Walking for Good Health
Mayo Clinic 12 week walking schedule
Sydney Morning Herald: A smarter weight loss workout
US News; Why 10,000 steps a day won't make you thin
Australia's physical activity and sedentary behaviour guidelines

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