Walk it off

The average American gains five to ten pounds during the holidays.  The New Year is the perfect time to focus on getting back on the health track.  Regular exercise is among the most beneficial health-promoting activities we can do for ourselves.  There is no drug or medical treatment that can even come close to the benefits gained with regular physical activity.  

Walking is a very natural and simple form of exercise.  It doesn’t require expensive or specialized equipment like many other forms of exercise.  Even the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates recognized the benefits of walking more than 2000 years ago stating, “Walking is man’s best medicine.”

Walking is a low impact aerobic activity.  That is, it is low impact because it does not put undue strain on the limbs and joints of the body.  The act of walking delivers only up to one and a half an individual’s body weight on the foot with each step.  Running and jogging on the other hand can deliver an impact to the lower extremities up to seven times the weight of a person’s body.  

Walking is aerobic in that it requires increased oxygen delivery to the muscles, including the heart.  One can stroll at about 2 to 3 miles per hour and not really increase the heart rate above a normal range of 60 to 100 beats/minute.  This doesn’t provide much in terms of aerobic exercise because the heart is not being “worked” above its usual requirements.

However, brisk walking (about 5 mph) or power walking (greater than 5 mph) can increase the heart rate to a point of aerobic benefit.  This target heart rate for exercise can be roughly calculated: 220 minus your age, times 85%.  

The faster you walk the more energy the body requires and the more calories you will burn.  A stroll will burn about 100 calories in twenty to thirty minutes of exercise.  A brisk walk can burn up to 180 calories in the same amount of time.  

It’s important to start off slow and work your way up.  You want to give your heart and the rest of your body time to get conditioned.  Also, you don’t want to get discouraged and give up on exercise because you’re doing too much too quickly.  One tool that may help to motivate your walking program is a pedometer.  These simple instruments keep track of your steps and mileage.

The only essential equipment is comfortable clothing and good walking shoes.  Sometimes the weather may not be optimal for walking such as with extreme heat or cold.  In these situations, consider walking at a mall, inside a large department store while browsing or, if space permits, throughout your home or on a treadmill.  

The benefits of a regular walking program include: burns calories and reduces appetite for weight loss; improves heart capacity; lowers blood pressure; lowers bad cholesterol (LDL); raises good cholesterol (HDL); improves blood sugar levels; maintains bowel regularity; reduces stress and depression; slows bone loss to prevent osteoporosis; and improves general muscle tone.

Consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.  If you experience any problems when walking, such as chest pain, trouble breathing, or new joint pains, have it checked out before continuing your program.  Always keep yourself safe when you are walking and keep yourself well-hydrated during exercise.  

The content in this column is for informational purposes only.  Consult your physician for appropriate individual treatment.  Dr. Reynolds practices Family Medicine in Chesterfield.


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