Walk for the environment
Health or Fitness?
Health is basically the absence of disease. Walking 150 minutes a week, which can be achieved by walking 30 minutes, five times a week, is the minimum recommendation to improve health. There are many studies showing that walking is good for your health. It improves your cardiovascular function, lowers blood pressure, relieves stress, helps prevent or treat diabetes, contributes to weight management, and more. Fitness is the ability to do work. If you are more fit, you have more energy and endurance and can do physical activity with less fatigue, as well as participating in sports. You can be healthy without a high degree of fitness, and you can be fit without being in the best of health (think of the athlete on steroids who has a bad cholesterol profile and kidney damage). So do the minimum walking for health. But if you want to have higher fitness, you will have to go farther and/or faster. And that's what we deal with here.
Here are some helpful tips
Technique tip: posture Donít look at your feet when you walk. You know where they are. Do hold your head up and look a few feet ahead, so you can avoid tripping over or stepping in something that may be there. Tuck your chin in and relax your shoulders. Keep your chest up so you donít slump or slouch. Relax.
Technique tip: arm swing
If youíre going for an easy walk, just let your arms swing naturally. If you want to go faster, adopt a racewalking arm swing. Bend your elbows 90 degrees, and swing your arms so your hands go from your hips to in front of the middle of your chest. Let your arms swing back and forth. Sideways swinging moves your energy in the wrong directionóyouíre going forward. Swinging your arms over your head is also a waste of energy.
Training tip: baseline distance
If you want to train to walk farther, first set a baseline distance you can work from. Walk until you are tired but not exhausted, and record the distance. Donít stop except for traffic or other safety reasons. There are different ways to do this. You can go to your local high school or college and see how many laps you can do. Most tracks are quarter mile. You can measure a mile course from your house with the odometer on your car and do that as long as you can. Another way would be to use a pedometer. Set it for distance, which is hard to get accuracy, or step counting, which is easy. Either test how many steps you take in a mile, or use the average of 2000. Donít just set out and walk as far as you can, or you will find yourself miles from home and too tired to get back without great discomfort. An exception would be if you are lucky enough to live where there is a public transportation system reliable enough that you can count on catching a bus home, or if you have a friend you can call to come pick you up and will be sure to be there.
Training tip: double workouts
If you donít have half an hour free to get your walk in, you can get almost as much benefitóboth health and fitnessóin two 15-minute sessions. Make sure you get in at least one continuous long walk a week, especially if one of your goals is to walk farther without fatigue. Do those short ones briskly.
The Talk Test:
Fitness includes aerobic (cardiovascular, or cardio) fitness, muscular strength and endurance, flexibility, and body composition. Sometimes, people who refer to fitness mean just aerobic fitness, and that is what we improve through walking. Aerobic fitness is measured by the amount of oxygen you can use in a given time. This is limited by age and genetic factors, but in most cases can be improved through training. You can improve aerobic endurance (another aspect of fitness) by walking farther, but basic improving basic aerobic fitness involves walking faster. How do you know if you are walking fast enough? The easiest way is the talk test. (Runners use this too.) You should be a little out of breath, but still able to carry on a conversation. You will be able to talk, but not sing.
Links: The Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest environmental group in the U.S. Founded in 1892, its first president was the great naturalist, explorer, and hiker, John Muir. Sierra Club chapters have outings that are open to anyone, members and nonmembers. These include backpacking, mountain climbing, and local, more modest hikes. Sierra Club hikes are probably not for people who are really out of shape, but if you have been doing some walking, you can get a good workout and meet some nice people. Contact your local chapter to see what they offer. www.sierraclub.org
Where to Walk: the track.
Many high schools and most colleges have a running track that is sometimes open to the public. This is usually 440 yards (400 meters). Some health clubs and parks have running/walking tracks as well. There are many advantages to doing some of your walking workouts on a track. First, thereís no traffic and you donít have to stop at intersections. Because itís measured, itís easy to figure out how far you walk and to compare your time from different workouts. Tracks are also great for doing intervals. The down side to walking on a track is that itís boring.
Training tip: walking shoes.
You may want to walk in running shoes. Most walking shoes are heavier than running shoes. Running shoes are lighter and usually made with some mesh which keeps your feet cooler on warm days or on long walks. Walking shoes, or cross trainers, may be ok for short walks, but most walkers prefer running shoes for serious training. The good news is you donít have to get the expensive, high-tech models. You donít need as much cushioning as a runner does. A lower heel profile works best. Buy your shoes at the end of the day, and wear the type of socks you will wear when walking. They should be comfortable in the store. Running/walking shoes donít have to be broken in. Save them for walking and buy new ones after you put about 500 miles on them.