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Are You Walking to the Right Beat for Fitness and
Weight Management?

by Richard Dafter - for

Have you ever heard someone say, "I have been walking almost every day and I still haven't lost the weight that I wanted to. "Although there are many reasons to walk, I think that it would be fair to assume that in a society where two thirds of the population is either overweight or obese, weight loss is surely one of the primary reasons.

Whether you walk to manage your weight, improve your fitness or you are using it as a conditioning activity for a sport or as a stepping stone to running, fitness walking is as close as you can get to the perfect aerobic exercise. There are no lessons involved, no membership fees to pay, no facility to drive to, you don't need another player, it's not seasonal and so forth and so on. At any time of day, virtually anywhere that you are, you can get in a walk.

Walking is also a very inexpensive activity. Except for making sure that you are wearing the right clothing for the conditions on any particular day, I would suggest that the only things that you need are a good pair of walking or running shoes and a heart rate monitor. And why a heart rate monitor you ask? For the very reason for which this article is entitled - to know whether you are walking to the right beat. Yes, heart rate is the determining factor in knowing whether you are maximizing your time and effort during your walks. If you are taking a casual stroll, no, you don't need to monitor your heart rate, but if, as I stated above you have a specific intent for your walk - weight management, improving fitness and so forth - then you do indeed need to know what your heart is doing during these walks.

Let's get back to our original question, which is whether you have ever heard someone say that they just weren't getting the results that they had expected from walking. Our response to the question would be that he or she isn't walking to the right beat and now I will explain why, by analyzing the good intentions of our imaginary friend, Wanda the Walker!

Wanda has managed to put on about 30 pounds and just isn't happy about it. She has finally made the commitment to bring her weight back down to where it should be and felt that walking would be a great way to do it. In Wanda's case, she simply enjoys being outside and seeing and hearing the sights and sounds and getting fresh air. She also has a job with a company that understands the value of having employees that are fit and healthy and thereby happier and more productive. She has flexibility as to when she can walk, so she chose to use most of her lunch hour to walk and then to return to a healthy, light lunch so that she is more alert in the afternoon.

Wanda's enthusiasm was as high as her intentions were good and she maintained her schedule and started seeing results. She walked the same two miles every day and returned to her office at the same time. But after a couple of weeks, Wanda didn't feel like she was getting the same benefit from her walk and wondered what was happening. Well, Wanda was walking alright, but not being mindful of her heart rate. You see, the heart is a muscle, just like any other muscle (okay, its not like just any other muscle, but you know what I mean) and Wanda's heart muscle had adapted to what she was doing and now was not giving back the same results that it had been. I often use the example of someone who lifts weights, in addition to aerobic exercise and good nutrition, to lose weight. For the same reason that you wouldn't choose to go out and walk ten miles on your first walk, you also wouldn't start doing biceps curls with a weight that you couldn't lift. You would start by lifting dumbbells that you could lift for a given number of repetitions and as you got stronger, you would go up to a higher weight that still allowed you to do the same number of repetitions. You accomplished this because your biceps got stronger and were no longer challenged by the lower weight. And so it is with your heart. Within a short time, depending on the individual and how often you walk, among other factors, your heart will adapt to walking two miles in say, thirty minutes, and you will either have to start walking faster or walking farther to get the same benefit. Your heart rate average may have been, for example, 135 beats per minute for thirty minutes and now it is 120 bpm (beats per minute) for thirty minutes and potentially dropping you into a lower, less effective heart rate zone. For more information, see the article on our site by Sally Edwards about the Five Heart Rate Zones

But Wanda the Walker is a smart walker and once she started using a Polar heart rate monitor, she was accurately able to not only see her heart rate as she walked, but to also know her average heart rate at the end of her walk. By increasing her pace on the walk, she was able to again average 135 bpm and be in a more effective heart rate zone for her, but of course, for a shorter duration. Knowing that duration was important, Wanda decided to walk for 30:00 on some days at her effective 135 bpm average (this number is different for everyone and should be roughly 65% to 75% of your maximum heart rate, which can be determined by using the simple formula 220 - your age.) In time, Wanda's heart again adapted and she able to walk even farther in 30:00 and seeing the potential for increased value from her walks, decided to extend them even further on her days off and on weekends.

It all really boils down to not whether you have rhythm, but rather, whether you have the right beat. If you walk, run, swim, do aerobics or engage in other cardiovascular activities to burn calories, you need to constantly know your heart with a heart rate monitor so that you can maximize your fat burning and the effectiveness of each and every workout that you do.

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