Get Moving

March 16, 2007|By Regina Nuzzo | Regina Nuzzo,Los ANgeles Times

Want to walk but don't do much of it now? Here are some tips on how to get started.

The basics:

The goal is to get your active metabolic rate between three and six times your resting rate. For most people, that means walking between 3 and 4 mph.

Not sure whether your pace is on target? Try timing yourself at a track or on a treadmill at the gym to see what 3.5 mph feels like, says Steven Blair, professor of exercise science at the University of South Carolina.

How long? Ten-minute chunks at a time are fine - but you'll build even more endurance by sustaining a longer bout. And remember that "30 minutes or more a day" is only a minimum recommendation.

9How to walkThe finer points can help you get more from a workout, says trainer Mark Fenton. Stand tall (slouching makes for bad walking); take quick steps (not shorter steps, just a faster stride); bend your arms at the elbow (this allows them to swing freely with less effort); and push off from your toes, as if "you're showing someone behind the sole of your shoe" (which engages more leg muscles).

To spice up your routine, try walking intervals, suggests Guy Le Masurier, professor of physical education at Malaspina University in British Columbia. Warm up for five to 10 minutes, he says, "then walk like you're late for the bus" for 30 seconds to two minutes. Slow back down for another 30 seconds to two minutes, then repeat. Start with three intervals and play around with the duration and intensity until it feels right.

New terrain can turn up the challenge. Hills are ideal, but walking on sand or snow or in waist-high water can also boost the intensity of your walk.

Throughout the week, you can mix approaches. For example, for two days a week, get in at least an hour of walking - "the big calorie burner," according to Fenton. Then, for the couple of days in which you're really pressed for time, do a 20-minute high-intensity blast. On the other days, accumulate 30 minutes of regular intensity however you can.

Make friends --If you're looking for lighthearted walking companionship, check out one of the 350 local American Volkssport Associations. Originally a German concept, "volkswalking" in the United States refers to people of various ages gathering for an organized 5K or 10K walk through parks or scenic routes.

If you're a senior --How much activity seniors should get is still open for debate. Roger Fielding of Tufts University sets the target at 30 minutes most days. Find a partner or a group to walk with, he says: Not only is it more fun to be social, you'll also have someone to help keep you safe. Build up endurance slowly, with frequent breaks if needed.

If you're trying to lose weight --Thirty minutes of daily walking might not be enough; most people also need to change their diets. But walking can help after you've lost weight.

If you feel intimidated by the idea of 30 minutes of walking, start at whatever level you find yourself, suggests James Hill, director of the human nutrition center at the University of Colorado. "Walk for five minutes today; tomorrow try to go to six. The biggest mistake is to go out and try to run three miles, end up feeling awful, and then drop the entire thing."

The Institute of Medicine and the U.S. Department of Agriculture now recommend 30 to 60 minutes a day of moderate physical activity to prevent unhealthy weight gain, and 60 to 90 minutes to maintain weight loss for people who have already lost weight - although some scientists say there is too little evidence to back up the recommendations.

Regina Nuzzo

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