Time to pick up the pace

by Jill Barker
The Gazette, Tuesday, March 10, 2009


WALKING CAN BE IDEAL for those who want to get in shape and stay there, but make sure you step it up


Longer days, sunshine that warms your face and sidewalks clear of snow and ice all mean one thing – the walking season has arrived. So shed your winter coat and boots and head outside for a little fresh air and exercise.

Why walk? It’s affordable, accessible and simple to master. There’s no learning curve, no need to wear Lycra and no better way to improve your health and well being. Going for a daily walk burns unwanted calories, improves heart health, builds stronger bones and reduces the risk of some forms of cancer. It can be done solo, with a buddy or with a pair of ear buds pumping in some solid tunes.

Think of it as exercise’s Canadian option; understated, underrated and totally forgiving.

If there’s a downside to walking, I haven’t found it. Keep in mind, however, that if you want to use walking as your exercise of choice, learn to treat it with respect. No more lollygagging from point A to B. Fitness walkers know how to step it up.

How do you take walking seriously? First, re-think your footwear. You don’t need the extra cushioning found in a high-end running shoe, but you do need a properly fitted shoe with good support, ventilation and a flexible toe box that allows your foot to pick up the pace in comfort.

But here’s the thing, you need to wear those shoes anywhere and everywhere you plan to walk – whether it’s during your daily commute or walking to the corner store to pick up a litre of milk.

If you’re going to spend more time on the go, you need to make sure your feet are properly looked after. So ditch the heels and heavy footwear and invest in shoes made for function, not fashion.

Next, you have to adjust your daily schedule to include more walking time. Most research studies suggest that from three to five hours of walking a week is the optimum for improving health.

But if weight loss is your goal, you’re going to have to log even more kilometres per week. It takes walks of about 60 minutes a day most days of the week to lose inches.

Before you panic about the time commitment you need to make, research also indicates that walking minutes can be accumulated through a series of short bouts of exercise, not just one long workout. This means you don’t have to cram all your mileage into one or two long walks. That little tidbit of information is what makes walking such a great option for anyone who struggles to find the time to exercise.

Because it’s so easy to accumulate walking minutes (you don’t need any special gear, equipment, instruction or preparation), you can reach your weekly mileage goals by simply keeping your walking shoes on your feet and taking every opportunity to give them a workout.

Carve out time to walk to and from work, go for a walk at lunch and plan on taking an extra long walk one day out of every weekend.

The other important tidbit to keep in mind is to pick up your walking pace to a speed that qualifies as exercise.

That doesn’t mean you have to race walk through city streets. A good brisk walk, like the speed you use when you’re late for an appointment, is what you’re aiming for. Once you make that brisk pace your preferred pace, you’re exercising every time you go out for a walk – which is the idea.

Another way to make your walk more of a workout is to add short pickups to your daily walks.

Turn up your speed a notch higher than your “late for an appointment” pace for 30 seconds several times during your walk.

Cue your feet to pick up the pace by swinging your arms a bit faster.

Plant your heel and roll through your foot pushing off the ball of your foot as you accelerate. Keep the upper body tall and stay light on your feet as you push to maintain an accelerated pace.

Repeat these short speed intervals several times during your walk. The added intensity will increase the calories burned and the workload on your heart and lungs enough to accrue even more fitness benefits than during a more moderately paced effort.

Before you head out the door all gung ho to add miles and intensity to your walking routine, be prepared for some initial discomfort.

Sore shins and muscle aches are common among newly dedicated walkers.

Quality footwear helps ease the transition from couch potato to avid walker. So does maintaining good technique and adding miles gradually over those first few weeks.

Keep up the pace and by the time the summer rolls around you’ll have become an accomplished walker who carries a few less pounds on a body that is healthier than it was just months before.

© The Gazette