The power of walking

Get fit one step at a time. Walking is something you do naturally every day, so it seems logical that it would be the best place to start to improve your fitness.

Just 30 minutes of walking a day can help you reduce your body fat, improve your muscle tone and cut down your risk from conditions such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, and type II diabetes. And best of all, besides the cost of a good pair of shoes, it’s free.

 

Starting out

If you’re serious about improving your fitness and you’re really unfit, try this three times a week:

  • Walk for 30 minutes: start off with 90 seconds at your normal walking pace and then speed up to a brisk walk for 30 seconds. Repeat until you’ve walked for 30 minutes. Remember that ‘brisk’ means increasing your pace to the point where you can still have a conversation and you’re not gasping for breath. After the first week, up the brisk walking and reduce your normal pace intervals. For example, one minute normal pace to one minute brisk walking.
  • Keep on increasing your brisk walking and decreasing your normal pace over a number of weeks, until you are brisk walking for the entire 30 minutes. Once you’ve achieved this goal, start increasing the time you spend walking by five minutes every third session, until you’re doing an hour at a time.

 

Be well armed

Remember to use your arms to propel yourself forward to improve the cardio benefit of walking:

  • Hold your hands in loose fists with a 90-degree bend in your elbows.
  • Swing your arms back and forth, raising them no higher than your chest and lowering them no further back than the side pocket of your pants.

 

Safety first

Before you start a new exercise programme, get the all-clear from your doctor, particularly if you are older than 40, have a specific health condition, are very overweight or haven’t exercised in a long time. When you’re out walking, make yourself as visible as possible at all times – wear reflective gear (especially in the early morning and at dusk) and walk facing oncoming traffic. Avoid wearing or carrying items such as jewellery, cellphones and iPods that will attract muggers, and let someone know where you’re going and how long you’re going to be.

 

Stay motivated

Three top tips to keep on going:

  • Rope in a friend. It’s far easier to stay motivated if you have someone to exercise with, especially during the winter months when you’re less inclined to brave the elements.
  • Join a club. There are a number of specialist walking clubs and groups you can join, which is also a great way to make new friends. Try Run/Walk For Life (www.runwalkforlife.co.za), which is a countrywide programme and offers sessions three times a week, according to a schedule designed for your individual fitness level.
  • Use your time wisely. If you’re time-strapped, aim to increase the amount of general walking you do every day by walking up flights of stairs instead of taking the lift, walking to the local shop instead of driving, or taking your dog for a walk.

 

To really reap the health benefits of walking, remember it’s a long-term commitment rather than a quick fix. You’re not going to see results overnight, but a few months down the line you’ll start noticing that your jeans are a little looser around the waist and there’s more of a spring in your step.

By Nicci Botha

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