Walking for Exercise and PleasureFrom
The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
Walking is easily the most
popular form of exercise. Other activities generate more conversation and media
coverage, but none of them approaches walking in number of participants.
Approximately half of the 165 million American adults (18 years of age and
older) claim they exercise regularly, and the number who walk for exercise is
increasing every year.
Walking is the only exercise in
which the rate of participation does not decline in the middle and later years.
In a national survey, the highest percentage of regular walkers (39.4%) for any
group was found among men 65 years of age and older.
Unlike tennis, running, skiing,
and other activities that have gained great popularity fairly recently, walking
has been widely practiced as a recreational and fitness activity throughout
recorded history. Classical and early English literature seems to have been
written largely by men who were prodigious walkers, and Emerson and Thoreau
helped carry on the tradition in America. Among American presidents, the most
famous walkers included Jefferson, Lincoln, and Truman.
Walking today is riding a wave
of popularity that draws its strength from a rediscovery of walking's utility,
pleasures, and health-giving qualities. This article is for those who want to
join that movement.
The Slower, Surer
Way to Fitness
People walk for many reasons:
for pleasure ... to rid themselves of tensions ... to find solitude ... or to
get from one place to another. Nearly everyone who walks regularly does so at
least in part because of a conviction that it is good exercise.
Often dismissed in the past as
being "too easy" to be taken seriously, walking recently has gained new respect
as a means of improving physical fitness. Studies show that, when done briskly
on a regular. schedule, it can improve the body's ability to consume oxygen
during exertion, lower the resting heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and
increase the efficiency of the heart and lungs. It also helps burn excess
Since obesity and high blood
pressure are among the leading risk factors for heart attack and stroke,
walking often protection against two of our major killers.
Walking burns approximately the
same amount of calories per mile as does running, a fact particularly appealing
to those who find it difficult to sustain the jarring effects of long distance
jogging. Brisk walking one mile in 15 minutes burns just about the same number
of calories as jogging an equal distance in 81/2 minutes. In weight-bearing
activities like walking, heavier individuals will burn more calories than
lighter persons. For example, studies show that a 110-pound person burns about
half as many calories as a 216-pound person walking at the same pace for the
Although increasing walking
speed does not burn significantly more calories per mile, a more vigorous
walking pace will produce more dramatic conditioning effects. When looking at
the benefits to heart/lung endurance, how far one improves depends on his/her
initial fitness level. Someone starting out in poor shape will benefit from a
slow speed of walking whereby someone in better condition would need to walk
faster and/or father to improve. Recent studies show that there are also
residual benefits to vigorous exercise. For a period of time after a dynamic
workout, one's metabolism remains elevated above normal which results in
additional calories burned.
In some weight-loss and
conditioning studies, walking actually has proven to be more effective than
running and other more highly-touted activities. That's because it's virtually
injury-free and has the lowest dropout rate of any form of exercise.
Like other forms of exercise.
walking appears to have a substantial psychological payoff. Beginning walkers
almost invariably report that they feel better and sleep better, and that their
mental outlook improves.
Walking also can exert a
favorable influence on personal habits. For example, smokers who begin walking
often cut down or quit. There are two reasons for this. One, it is difficult to
exercise vigorously if you smoke, and two, better physical condition encourages
a desire to improve other aspects of one's life.
In addition to the qualities it
has in common with other activities, walking has several unique advantages.
Some of these are:
Almost everyone can do
You don't have to take lessons
to learn how to walk. Probably all you need to do to become a serious walker is
step up your pace and distance and walk more often.
You can do it almost
All you have to do to find a
place to walk is step outside your door. Almost any sidewalk, street, road,
trail, park, field, or shopping mall will do. The variety of settings available
is one of the things that makes walking such a practical and pleasurable
You can do it almost
You don't have to find a
partner or get a team together to walk, so you can set your own schedule.
Weather doesn't pose the same problems and uncertainties that it does in many
sports. Walking is not a seasonal activity. and you can do it in extreme
temperatures that would rule out other activities.
It doesn't cost
You don't have to pay fees or
join a private club to become a walker. The only equipment required is a
sturdy, comfortable pair of shoes.
Walking for Physical
What makes a walk a workout?
It's largely a matter of pace and distance. When you' re walking for exercise,
you don't saunter, stroll, or shuffle. Instead, you move out at a steady clip
that is brisk enough to make your heart beat faster and cause you to breathe
Here are some tips to help you
develop an efficient walking style:
Hold head erect and keep back
straight and abdomen flat. Toes should point straight ahead and arms should
swing loosely at sides.
Land on the heel of the foot
and roll forward to drive off the ball of the foot. Walking only on the ball of
the foot, or in a flat-footed style, may cause fatigue and soreness.
Take long, easy strides, but
don't strain for distance. When walking up or down hills, or at a very rapid
pace, lean forward slightly.
Breathe deeply (with mouth
open, if that is more comfortable).
What to Wear When
A good pair of shoes is the
only "special equipment" required by the walker. Any shoes that are
comfortable, provide good support, and don't cause blisters or calluses will
do, but here are some suggestions to help you make your selection:
- Good running shoes (the
training models with heavy soles) are good walking shoes, as are some of the
lighter trail and hiking boots and casual shoes with heavy rubber or crepe
- Whatever kind of shoe you
select, it should have arch supports and should elevate the heel one-half to
three-quarters of an inch above the sole of the foot.
- Choose a shoe with uppers
made of materials that "breathe," such as leather or nylon mesh.
Weather will dictate the rest
of your attire. As a general rule, you will want to wear lighter clothing than
temperatures seem to indicate. Walking generates lots of body heat.
In cold weather, it's better to
wear several layers of light clothing than one or two heavy layers. The extra
layers help trap heat, and they are easy to shed if you get too warm. A wool
watch cap or ski cap also will help trap body heat and provide protection for
the head in very cold temperatures.
Walking Poses Few Health
If you are free of serious
health problems, you can start walking with confidence. Walking is not as
strenuous as running, bicycling, or swimming and consequently involves almost
no risk to health. Of course, this statement assumes that you will exercise
good judgment and not try to exceed the limits of your condition.
Most physicians recommend
annual physical examinations for persons over 40 or 45 years of age. Also, if
you have high blood pressure or other cardiovascular problems, you should
consult your physician before beginning any kind of exercise program.
Warmup and Conditioning
Walking is good exercise for
the legs, heart, and lungs, but it is not a complete exercise program. Persons
who limit themselves to walking tend to become stiff and inflexible, with
short, tight muscles in the back and backs of the legs. They also may lack
muscle tone and strength in the trunk and upper body. These conditions can lead
to poor posture and chronic lower-back pain, a problem that partially cripples
or disables thousands of middle-aged and older Americans.
The exercises that follow are
designed to increase flexibility and strength and to serve as a "warmup" for
walking. Always do the exercises before walking.
facing wall arms' length away. Lean forward and place palms of hands flat
against wall, slightly below shoulder height. Keep back straight, heels firmly
on floor, and slowly bend elbows until forehead touches wall. Tuck hips toward
wall and hold position for 20 seconds. Repeat exercise with knees slightly
Reach and Bend Stand
erect with feet shoulder-width apart and arms extended over head. Reach as high
as possible while keeping heels on floor and hold for 10 counts. Flex knees
slightly and bend slowly at waist, touching floor between feet with fingers.
Hold for 10 counts (If you can't touch the floor, try to touch the tops of your
shoes.) Repeat entire sequence 2 to 5 times.
Knee Pull Lie flat
on back with legs extended and arms at sides. Lock arms around legs just below
knees and pull knees to chest, raising buttocks slightly off floor. Hold for 10
to 15 counts. (If you have knee problems, you may find it easier to lock arms
behind knees.) Repeat exercise 3 to 5 times.
Situp Several versions
of the sit-up are listed in reverse order of difficulty (easiest one listed
first, most difficult one last). Start with the sit-up that you can do three
times without undue strain. When you are able to do 10 repetitions of the
exercise without great difficulty, move on to a more difficult version.
- Lie flat on back with arms
at sides, palms down, and knees slightly bent. Cud head forward until you can
see past feet, hold for three counts, then lower to start position. Repeat
exercise 3 to 10 times.
- Lie flat on back with arms
at sides, palms down, and knees slightly bent. Roll forward until upper body is
at 45-degree angle to floor, then return to starting position. Repeat
exercise 3 to 10 times.
- Lie flat on back with arms
at sides, palms down, and knees slightly bent. Roll forward to sitting
position, then return to starting position. Repeat exercise 3 to 10
- Lie flat on back with arms
crossed on chest and knees slightly bent. Roll forward to sitting position,
then return to starting position. Repeat exercise 3 to 10 times.
- Lie flat on back with hands
laced in back of head and knees slightly bent. Roll forward to sitting
position, then return to starting position. Repeat exercise 3 to 15
How Far?. . . How Fast?. . .
Now that you have decided to
begin walking for exercise, you may be shocked at how poor your condition is.
If at first you have difficulty in meeting the standards suggested here, don't
be discouraged. You can systematically build your stamina and strength back to
acceptable levels. Patience is the key to success. Some experts say that it
takes a month of reconditioning to make up for each year of physical
No one can tell you exactly how
far or how fast to walk at the start, but you can determine the proper pace and
distance by experimenting. We recommend that you begin by walking for 20
minutes at least four or five times a week at a pace that feels comfortable to
you. If that proves to be too tiring, or too easy, reduce or lengthen your time
Some very old people and some
people who are ill begin by walking for one or two minutes, resting a minute,
and repeating this cycle until they begin to be fatigued. Where you have to
start isn't important; it's where you're going that counts.
As your condition improves, you
should gradually increase your time and pace. After you have been walking for
20 minutes several days a week for one month, start walking 30 minutes per
outing. Eventually, your goal should be to get to the place where you can
comfortably walk three miles in 45 minutes, but there is no hurry about getting
The speed at which you walk is
less important than the time you devote to it, although we recommend that you
walk as briskly as your condition permits. It takes about 20 minutes for your
body to begin realizing the "training effects" of sustained exercise.
The "talk test" can help you
find the right pace. You should be able to carry on a conversation while
walking. If you're too breathless to talk, you' re going too fast.
The more often you walk, the
faster you will improve. Three workouts a week are considered to be a
"maintenance level" of exercise. More frequent workouts are required for swift
Listen to Your
Listen to your body when you
walk. If you develop dizziness, pain, nausea, or any other unusual symptom,
slow down or stop. If the problem persists, see your physician before walking
Don't try to compete with
others when walking. Even individuals of similar age and build vary widely in
their capacity for exercise. Your objective should be to steadily improve your
own performance, not to walk farther or faster than someone else.
The most important thing is
simply to set aside part of each day and walk. No matter what your age or
condition, it's a practice that can make you healthier and happier.
Let your legs take you down
the road to fitness and vitality
the Presidential Sports Award!
The Presidential Sports Award
Program was developed by the President's Council on Physical Fitness &
Sports in 1972 as a means to motivate all Americans to be active throughout
life, and emphasizes regular exercise rather than outstanding performance. It
is a non-profit program that runs entirely from participant fees and is
administered by the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). Click on the Presidential
Sports Award link above to find out how to qualify.