Summer is the season to step up

Exercise: Take your walks to a higher level.

July 11, 1999|By Judi Sheppard Missett | Judi Sheppard Missett,Los Angeles Times

You say you're ready to step up your fitness program? Well, strike while the iron -- or, more accurately, the temperature -- is hot. Summer is the ideal time to take your walking to a higher level.

Walking remains one of the best aerobic activities around. Inexpensive, easily accessible and low impact, walking can provide a terrific cardiovascular workout for individuals of all ages and fitness levels.

To add a little more oomph to your workouts, try the following tips:

* Shave a few seconds off your per-mile pace. The increase in speed may be subtle, but the cumulative effect will show in the distance you cover and in your training heart rate.

* Head for the hills. Variable terrain walking can burn 25 to 40 percent more calories than walking on a flat surface. Propelling your body weight against gravity can improve your stamina, strength, anaerobic power and aerobic endurance, according to exercise specialists.

* Stretch after every workout. Flexibility is key to maintaining a strong, fluid stride.

* Improve your form. Maintain good posture (ears in line with your shoulders and hips), and concentrate on tightening your gluteal muscles with each stride. Engage your abdominal muscles as well, and stretch your spine tall.

The following exercise will strengthen your abdominal muscles, which help stabilize your torso. Performing this exercise on a step that is slanted slightly downward will increase the intensity, but you may perform it lying flat on the floor as well.

Lie on your back and place your hands behind your head. Keep your upper torso and neck relaxed throughout the exercise. Elevate your legs, keeping your knees bent so that your feet are above your hips.

Exhale as you tilt your pelvis by using your abdominal muscles to pull your hip bones up toward your ribs.

Slowly release and repeat 10 to 15 times, exhaling with each contraction.

Your legs are elevated to provide additional resistance. Avoid swinging or kicking them, as this decreases the amount of work your abdominal muscles must do to complete the movements. To lower the intensity, place one or both feet on the floor.

For any walking program, remember to invest in a good pair of walking shoes, stay well- hydrated and protect your skin with sunscreen.

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