Sunday, August 05, 2007

Walking for Your Health

The newly updated ACSM physical activity guidelines now recommend that all adults (both under and over age 65) accumulate moderately intense cardio for minimum 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

It may sound overwhelming at first. In modern lifestyle people are so busy at work, taking less vacation days, and spending more time and money eating out. It seems that people are crunched in time doing the exercise required to manage their weight and health.

How do you find the time to do the five 30-miniute cardio sessions and two muscle strength training sessions every week?

Remember, these are just basic recommendations and guidelines to maintain health and reduce risk of chronic disease. If you're overweight or obese, you may need 60 to 90 minutes of physical activities to lose weight (or fat).

Walking is the most popular form of aerobic exercise for adults. Walking at a normal-to-brisk pace constitutes moderate-intensity exercise. Walking has several advantages over other exercises:

- Walking can be performed by a majority of people.
- Walking does not require special equipment or other people.
- Walking has a low rate of injury.
- Walking is easier to work into one's daily schedule.

Walking is also an activity that many people can fit into their daily schedules. The ACSM guidelines specify that short bouts of moderate-intensity activities of 10 minute or longer can be counted towards the 30-minute recommendation. For example, if a person finds it difficult to block out 30 consecutive minutes for walking, it might be easier to take three 10-minute walks.

Although walking does not provide the same boost to fitness as a more vigorous activity such as running or high intensity interval training (H.I.I.T.) cardio, it is clearly a type of exercise with important health benefits. Walking can be equally beneficial to many people who cannot engage in more vigorous intensity activities due to medical or orthopedic problems.

One often-missed yet important element in walking for your health is that the "intensity" has to be at least on the "moderate" level.

The ACSM guidelines specify moderate-intensity physical activity as "working hard enough to raise your heart rate and break a sweat, yet still being able to carry on a conversation." So causal walking a few minutes in the office or around the block at a slow pace do not count towards the recommendation.

So how fast or how hard should you walk to meet the ACSM recommendations for your health?

At a walking pace of 3.5 miles per hour, a person could walk two miles in about 35 minutes. This would be one way to meet the ACSM recommendation for aerobic exercise.

How do you know that you've just walked two miles in 35 minutes?

Pedometers are useful tools for helping people track their walking particularly when they distribute the walking throughout the day. Although the exact number of steps needed for health benefits has not been documented for all ages, an average of 10,000 steps per day has been linked with lower blood pressure, improved blood glucose control, a healthier body weight, and less abdominal obesity.

Each person's fitness level is different. Walking pace of 3.5 miles per hour could be easy for one, but challenging for the other. For cardiovascular health beyond the ACSM recommendation, you should walk fast enough that you feel your heart rate goes up, breathe a little heavier and cannot complete a sentence without a break. If you wear a heart-rate monitor, you should walk fast ennough that your heart rate stays above the minimum recommended range by your physician or trainer.

Another way of measuring your aerobic intensity is the rate of perceived exertion (RPE). It's also called the "talk test" to gauge how you feel during the exercise. The moderate intensity would be at least 5 to 6 out of the RPE scale of 1 to 10 range.

When beginning a walking routine, start slowly and progress gradually. Also keep in mind that consistency is the real key to gaining health benefits through walking. The choice to be an active person requires a lifetime commitment.

As always, consult your physician before starting an exercise program especially if you have medical or orthopedic problems. Hire a qualified personal trainer to design a custom and individualized program for you.

With patience and consistency, you can walk your way for improving your health and losing fat.

Learn how to walk off your weight. >>

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