Sunday 25 February 2018

Pat Henry: Walk your way to health

Walking is one of the most accessible exercises with numerous health benefits

A brisk walk can help you help you shed the pounds. Photo:
A brisk walk can help you help you shed the pounds. Photo:

Pat Henry

Walking is a great way to stay you on track with your fitness over the Christmas season.

Age is no barrier and it's one of the best exercises you can do as it strengthens the cardiovascular system, tones the muscles, increases flexibility, burns fat and reduces stress.

Walking puts minimum strain on the joints - a walker's foot receives one to one-and-a-half times a person's body weight each time it strikes the ground - this is compared to running, which places three to four times a person's body weight on their feet with each stride. Less impact means fewer injuries.

Walking a mile burns the same number of calories as running a mile, and brisk walking, with a moderate 10-degree incline, burns more calories than jogging five miles an hour.

Meanwhile, one hour of brisk walking burns, on average, 348 calories - and remember, one pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. So if you walked an hour a day for a year, you would burn 127,020 calories.

Divide that by 3,500 and the amount of weight you would have lost in one year is 36 pounds.

Fitness walking is often used by athletes as a component of an effective cross-training programme. Walking combined with weight training is great for losing excess fat.

Walking briskly, changing your stride every mile to avoid back or hip strain, will help to firm up the legs and bottom.

Try walking heel to toe rather than shuffling your feet along the ground.

Walking correctly will help make your journey easier and prevent shin and calf strain.

If you find walking four miles an hour too hard, just do two or three miles at whatever speed is right for you - aim to find your own pace and make the exercise enjoyable.

Find a route that is good for you. If you live near a park or even a beach, it is ideal to facilitate high oxygen intake in the clean, fresh air, which will, in turn, burn off more calories.

Get a good pair of runners or walking shoes and don't use shoes that are ancient or hurt your feet.

As you get fitter, put some Vaseline on your heels and toes and wear good socks to avoid friction or blisters.

If you would like more of a challenge, stride-walking may be better: simply use light arm and ankle weights, and use brisk arm movements - this is like cross-country skiing without skiing. Aim for five miles an hour.

I have completed quite a few walking marathons with my best time between 4.55 and 5.10 hours.

To get ready for a long walk like this, keep a training diary and aim to complete four miles in one hour. When this gets easy, step the pace up a little, but don't break into a jog.

A tightening in the hips and shoulders, or walking too upright with no flexibility in the lower back or mid range of shoulders, can often slow you down.

If you observe some walkers, you will see that their stride is not a relaxed movement: the arms may swing, but shoulders don't move.

The correct way to move to avoid long-term damage is similar to how a baby crawls: the left shoulder and right leg move in unison.

This movement takes so much pressure off the neck and lower back, and when you get used to the movement, you will glide with less strain and more grace. It also works your waist really well.

Having recently been on a three-day course on walking-related injuries and the correct walking position, I was amazed to learn how much of a difference some small adjustments can make to your walk.

For example, as I mentioned earlier, walking heel to toe, and rolling from the heel gently forward, takes the pressure off the back of your foot and prevents metatarsal strain and shin splints.

IAlso, it is important that you don't overstretch before your walk, because if your body is cold, you could do more damage. T

he most effective time to stretch is at the end of your walk, holding each stretch for 15 seconds, and no more.

If your calves are tight, gently lower your heels down from a step or stairs, letting your heels go down as far as possible before returning to your starting position.

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