A growing body of research has found that a regular program of moderate exercise—such as walking—may add years to your life. The CDC says that moderate exercise requires some exertion, but not so much that you can't carry on a conversation while doing it. A moderate pace of walking is 3 to 4.5 mph; vigorous walking is 5 mph or faster. A moderate walking pace uses 3.5 to 7 calories per minute; vigorous walking uses 7 calories per minute.
Exercise can help you sleep better; improve your energy level; control your weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels; reduce the risk for heart attack, stroke, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, depression, colon cancer, and osteoporosis; and improve arthritis and back pain, to name a few benefits.
Before you start any new exercise program, however, you should check with your health care provider. This is especially true if you have a chronic health problem such as heart disease, diabetes, or obesity, or if you are a man over 40, or a woman over 50, and plan to exercise vigorously.
Decide on your fitness goal before you start. Are you exercising to improve your fitness or to lose weight? If weight loss is your goal, you may need to aim for a longer workout than if you want to improve your cardiovascular health.
The American Heart Association developed the following chart to show the approximate calories spent per hour by a 100-, 150-, and 200- pound person doing a particular activity.
Bicycling, 6 mph
Bicycling, 12 mph
Jogging, 7 mph
Running, 5.5 mph
Running, 10 mph
Swimming, 25 yds/min
Swimming, 50 yds/min
Walking, 2 mph
Walking, 3 mph
Walking, 4.5 mph
Studies show that several short walking sessions that total 60 minutes are as beneficial as one longer 60-minute session. If it's difficult for you to get your walk in all at one time, consider walking 20 minutes in the morning, 20 at lunch, and 20 after work.
For example, park in the far reaches of a parking lot instead of searching for a spot by the door. A brisk, daily walk at lunch with a coworker could turn out to be the part of your day both of you look forward to most.
Try these offbeat ways to make fitness walking a breeze:
Buy a pedometer at a sporting goods store. Aim for 10,000 steps throughout each day, whether at work, home, or the grocery store. An analog pedometer may cost as little as $7; a digital device, $20 to $30.
Put a dollar in a jar each day you meet your walking goal. Spend the money on yourself on the last day of the month.
Invest in a walking tape and a portable cassette player, a portable CD player, or an mp3 player or iPod.
Stop by your local tourist office and pick up pamphlets listing historic walking tours, shopping malls, local universities, parks, and wildlife sanctuaries. You'll discover wonderful places to walk in your locality as you improve your health.
Join a walking club; you'll meet other walkers and explore some scenic walks.
The following walking techniques promote a safe and fit walking style:
Wear comfortable, supportive walking shoes.
Warm up for five minutes by walking at a slow, easy pace. At the end of a brisk walk, cool down for five minutes in the same way.
Avoid overly long strides. Instead, use small, quick steps to prevent injury.
Land on your heel with each step, roll your foot from heel to toes, then push off with your toes.
Pull in your abdominal and buttocks muscles as you walk.
Walk with your head up, chin level, chest up, and shoulders back.
Drink plenty of water before, during and after you walk.
Check with your doctor before beginning any walking routine.