Every once and a while, I would go out for walk with my son after dinner. He would take his scooter and I would tag along. We discovered many different spots in our city and took a lot of pleasure in chatting about our day or about topics of interest. Sometimes we laughed our heads off and other times we didn’t talk at all, but it was just nice to know that we were there together. OK, I’ll be totally honest here: and sometimes we argued. But then, that’s just a part of life and getting to know each other and our limits. I honestly believe that these walks helped me bond with him and made our relationship grow stronger and deeper. As the months went by, I found myself looking forward to these walks more and more and so decided to make them a priority. When the homework, dinner, cleaning up was done, we would head outdoors for our evening walk. I thought this would be challenging as this meant no more TV. Well you know what? I had no regrets and I never looked back.

To get you motivated, let’s take a closer look at what’s in it for you, if you decide to take up walking.

Recommended amount of exercise /walking?

According to the standards of the American Heart Association, the current recommendations for overall cardiovascular health is to do:

  • at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensityaerobic activity at least 5 days per week (for a total of 150 mn)

OR

  • at least 25 minutes of vigorousaerobic activity at least 3 days per week for a total of 75 minutes(you can also combine moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity)

AND

  • Moderate to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activityat least 2 days per weekfor additional health benefits.

Note for those of you that need to lower Blood Pressure and Cholesterol:

An average 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous-intensityaerobic activity 3 or 4 times per week.

One of the easiest and best ways to achieve this goal is simply by walking. So, I know that when we say the word « work out », we automatically see someone training hard and sweating a lot and for this reason we tend to downsize certain activities, including walking but also dancing or other recreational activities such as playing basketball in the backyard, walking the dog, going out for a bike ride with the kids. All these activities are exercise and are beneficial to your health. They truly don’t get the respect they deserve. The most important thing is that you are out there moving and having fun! You don’t have to kill yourself to start getting benefits. It’s very important to understand that SOMETHING IS BETTER THAN NOTHING! And if you actually have fun during the process it will be even more beneficial for you as it will also boost your mood and how you feel about yourself. Who says that putting on your favourite music on really loud and dancing your heart out isn’t exercise? Start out with something that’s easy and that you will stick to. For this reason, walking is a great choice. Just about anyone can do it, anytime, anywhere! No equipment is needed, no training, instructions or skills are required and there is a very low risk of getting injured. You can walk indoors (on a treadmill) or outdoors, alone or with a friend, at home or when travelling and you can’t beet the price: it’s totally free!

What are the benefits of walking?

 You will be burning calories

By simply walking you can actuallylose weight. Although there are many factors involved to calculate exactly how many calories you have burnt, the chart below can give you a relative estimate.

Of course, your weight and the speed at which you walk will determine how many calories your burn.

Calories burned per mile by walking according to weight

Speed/Pounds 100 lb 120 lb 140 lb 150 lb 160 lb 180 lb 200 lb 220 lb 250 lb 275 lb 300 lb
2.0 mph 57 68 80 85.5 91 102 114 125 142 156 170
3.0 mph 53 64 74 79.5 85 95 106 117 133 146 159
4.0 mph 57 68 80 85.5 91 102 114 125 142 156 170
5.0 mph 73 87 102 109 116 131 145 160 182 200 218

The chart of calories burned per mile is based on MET research – metabolic equivalents of various activities.

« References : AINSWORTH BE, Haskell WL, Whitt MC, Irwin ML, Swartz AM, Strath SJ, O’Brien WL, Bassett DR Jr,

Schmitz KH, Emplaincourt PO, Jacobs DR Jr, Leon AS. «  »Compendium of Physical Activities : An update of activity codes and MET intensities. » » Med Sci Sports Exerc 2000 ;32 (Suppl) :S498-S516. »

How do you know at what pace you are walking?

If you count the number of steps you take in one minute, you can estimate in what range your pace is :

  • 80 steps per minute corresponds to a leisurly pace
  • 100 steps per minute corresponds to a brisk pace
  • 120 steps per minute corresponds to a fast pace

As we age, we tend to progressively gain weight (between 1 to 2 pounds a year). Although it doesn’t seem to amount to a lot, it can lead to obesity over a certain number of years. Walking is one of the best ways to stop this accumulation of weight.

Walking tones your legs, your bum and your abs!

When walking, not only do you burn calories, you also tone your muscles. When you know that you lose as much as 3 to 5 percent of your total muscle mass each decade after your turn 30, it’s important to keep those muscles working. To get the most benefits from you walk, try to vary the terrain by hill walking or taking stairs, but also by walking on sand, earth or grass instead of always opting for concrete.

A good idea would be to vary your circuit whenever possible. Why not try to get out of the city on weekends or try a different park or area altogether to enjoy new sceneries and to avoid getting into a routine rut. I can’t insist enough about the importance of connecting with nature. The benefits are huge. Bring your dog, your kids, a friend and enjoy the great outdoors. Look around you at the simple beauties of life such as a squirrel, the clouds, birds chirping, the smell of pine trees. Take it all in and notice how you wind up getting this sense of total freedom.

Walking lifts your spirits!

Try this:

Go for a 10mn walk. Before you go, however, write down on a piece of paper how you feel on a scale between 0 and 10. Are you stressed? Tired? Angry? Do you have a feeling your head is foggy? Do you have a headache? Are you overwhelmed with all the things you have to do? Write it all down. Then when you come back from your walk, pick up the paper and see how you feel. Chances are you will feel a lot better. Why? Because walking is the best energy booster there is. While you are walking, you release « feel good endorphins » that are responsible in bringing pleasure. Consequently, you feel less stressed and anxious. So, forget about taking vitamins, that cup of java or that Energy drink. If you are feeling a little sluggish, chances are all you need is a bit of fresh air and a little walk.

Walking strengthens your heart

You might remember that phrase that said : « An apple a day keeps the doctor away! » but it could be twisted into « A walk every day keeps the doctor away ».

When you are walking you heart rhythm accelerates, you pump more blood which increases yor overall fitness including your heart and lungs. You also reduce the risk of getting heart disease or a stroke. It can also help you manage hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes. So, go get your shoes and start walking!

Where do I start?

Although it’s quite straightforward – you basically just have to get up and walk – there are a number of little things you can look into. To help you, I will list a series of questions and answers below.

  • Do I count minutes or steps?

It doesn’t really matter just as long as you are out there walking. However, counting minutes or steps is a great way to keep track of your progress but it’s also a number (30 minutes or 5000 steps every day) or a goal (walking 5 times a week) that you can reach. For this reason, it might be worth trying to choose one or the other.

  • How do I reach 150 minutes a week?

The American Council on Exercise proposes to walk at a moderate intensity for 30 to 60 mn, five times per week or to exercise vigorously for 20 to 60 minutes (three days per week).

They also propose to do one continuous session and multiple shorter sessions (of at least 10 minutes). You could, for instance, have two “30 minute” walks on the weekends and 5 shorter “10 minute” walks throughout the week.

These are ideal numbers however, and for many of you they may seem impossible to reach either because they are too challenging on a fitness level or because you simply don’t have the time. If you are not fit enough, just make a gradual progression of intensity, frequency and time. You can even start off with as little as 5 minutes a day. Your only goal, at first, should be to do it regularly.

If time is the issue, try to work around it. You could make sure you get a 15 minute walk every lunchtime. It may not seem like a lot but once you add it up it comes to 1 hour and 15 minutes a week. That’s 65 hours a year! If you can manage to add one or two long walks during the weekend you are set to reach the AHA and ACSM standards!

  • How do I count steps? And How do I get all my steps in?

A good idea might be to invest in a pedometer. Pedometers are little devices that allow you to keep track of the number of steps you take during the day. A 2010 Study done by the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and exercise says that the average American walks 5,117 steps a day. However, according to AHA, the recommended number of steps, if you want to achieve health benefits is 10,000 steps per day or more. And since research has shown that people using a pedometer tend to take 2491 extra steps each day, it might be a good idea to get one!

If you do not wish to invest in a pedometer but would still like to know roughly how many steps you are walking each day here are a few tips:

  • 1 mile is approximately 2000 steps
  • 12 average city blocks equals approximately 1 mile

If you do decide to invest in a pedometer, try the first few days to start off without setting a goal to reach a certain amount of steps. Set it on and see how many steps you achieve in a normal day. In this way, you will have a realistic starting point. After a few days, according to the number of steps you have achieved you will be ready to set a goal. Although 10,000 steps is the ideal amount per day, you might not be ready for such a big jump. You may even start at 2000, 3000 or 4000 steps. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is to just get started!

Let’s say, for example, your daily steps were at approximately 2000 at your initial starting point. I would suggest that you walk around a few blocks and see how many steps it amounts to: 200, 300, 500 steps? This could be a good way to set your first goal.

Then, once you get this goal anchored, try to find new and easy ways to add some more steps.

  • You could for example decide to go up and down a flight of stairs that are in or nearby your home to add another 50, 100 or 200 steps, to tone your legs and butt and get your heart pumping.
  • Next time you go to the supermarket, you could walk twice around the whole parking lot or… once you are inside, you could walk twice around the whole store before starting to shop.
  • You could race your kids going up the stairs, while they take the elevator (let them give you a head start of about 30 seconds) and then switch roles.
  • Make a phone call walk. We all have that phone call we dread to make, because we know it’s going to take an hour. Take your phone outdoors, bring a pair of speakers and chat and stroll. This way you get two things done in one go. Tell the person you took 15-20 mn (or more) time off especialy to call them but that as soon as you get back home you will have to cut the conversation because you have got the kids homework to check, dinner to prepare etc.
  • If you are lucky to have a treadmill at home, schedule a favorite TV program and walk your way through it. Many gyms have cardio equipment with a TV, so it’s also an option there too.

How to walk?

As I said before, no training is required, however, keep in mind the following:

  • Keep your posture erect, stand tall. This means keeping shoulders back (remind yourself regularly to pull them back). Keep your tummy in and your chin up, eyes looking forward.
  • Swing your arms (I like to keep them bent and not dangling down or else, after a moment my hands tend to swell from having the blood rushing to its extremities).
  • Breathe and fill your lungs. Remember that you should never be out of breath – Use the talk test to make sure you are at a correct speed: you shouldn’t be able to sing beautifully but you should be able to have a conversation with someone.
  • Smile as much as possible (to the people you meet, for the beauty of nature and simply for yourself).
  • Feel proud. I am not talking about being pretentious. I want you to stand tall and just feel proud.
  • Why don’t you use my « Determined and Mindful Walking » tape (I will be posting this tape or a written version that you can read at a later date)
  • Or use the « Reach your 5 senses Walk » (see change n° 27: Practice being more mindful while walking or exercising.

 Equipment

You don’t really need anything special to walk: what’s important is to feel comfortable. You can even do it in your work clothes and walk to work. If you are worried about getting all sweaty simply make sure you don’t walk too fast. You can also plan on bringing a spare shirt and quickly change it in the restrooms when you arrive. You can also leave 5 minutes earlier and bring wipes and deoderant and have a quick perk up before you start working (that’s what I do).

The one thing I would definitely invest in, however, is a good pair of walking shoes. Not all shoes are made for walking and you might end up with blisters or pain in different parts of your feet such as the heel or the achilles tendon. Most major athletic brands offer shoes that are especially designed for walking. No need to put $100 but I do recommend buying them in a store (as opposed to online) that way you can take the time to try them on and walk around. It’s important that they feel comfortable and that they provide cushioning.

For the cold and windy days, a nice sweater might be all you need, or you may want to invest in a windbreaker, a scarf and a pair of gloves. I personally don’t like to dress up too warmly. I know a lot of people layer up thinking that they will sweat more and lose weight. I don’t know why it is, but I have always felt that my body needs to breathe too! I prefer wearing a special long-sleeved running t-shirt. They often wick the sweat away, leaving you feeling dry and protect you more from the wind than a normal t-shirt.

I also believe in starting out feeling a little out of my comfort zone, that is, feeling like I could have worn an extra layer of clothes. After a few minutes of walking however, my body starts to warm up. It may seem strange but under-dressing has the advantage of forcing your metabolism to work a little harder to keep your body warm, so you are actually burning more calories. It’s important however, that you never feel as though you are freezing, or cold and shivering. The goal here is to feel good and not to get sick or catch a cold.

This goal is probably one of the easiest ones to tackle: all you have to do is get up and walk. Call a friend and ask him or her to join you. Pull your shoulders back, breathe in deeply, look around and appreciate your suroundings and whenever possible, smile.

Try to create a moment that you will look forward to by listening to your favorite music, watching your favorite tv show, calling someone up, spending a special bonding moment with you child or pet. If you.

Something you might want to check out:

  • « shapesense.com to calculate how many calories you are burning while walking (or jogging) according to weight, distance and terrain.

If your goal is to add a daily walk, choose a realistic amount of time to do it. If this is totally new to you, choose a 10 or 15 minutes daily walk and stick with it. I would rather you do 15 minutes every day then 30 minutes twice a week. The goal here is to initiate a new habit. If it is unrealistic (such as taking up too much of your time) there is a big chance you will get discouraged and quit soon. Make sure it’s attainable. If you don’t have much time but you want to do 30 minutes every day, I suggest you split the walks into 2 or 3 bouts of exercise, that way you are sure to get it done.

For many of you, walking may seem too easy, but you would be astounded by its benefits. Just try it! Put a good pair of walking shoes on and walk at a fast pace. You will feel invigorated, energetic and totally revved up and probably come home with a refreshed mind!

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