Walk this way - Pat Henry on benefits of brisk walking

Pat Henry on the fat-burning powers and fitness benefits of brisk walking

Pat Henry advocates strong walking.

Fitness walking is often used by athletes as a component of an effective cross training programme. It complements cycling, swimming, running and walking and, combined with weight training, is the choice for losing excess fat and weight. Walking burns fat for energy where other activities will run on carbohydrates, which burn short-term energy.

Walking also puts less strain on the joints. One hour of brisk walking burns an average of 348 calories and remember, one pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. So if you look at it this way, 348 calories by 365 days equals 127,020 calories, and if you divide that by three-and-a-half thousand, that equals the number of pounds you would lose in one year. In the example it would be 36 pounds.

You should walk briskly, changing your stride every mile to avoid back or hip strain, and this will help to firm the legs and bottom. Walking correctly will help make your journey easier and avoid shin and calf strain. Try walking heel-to-toe rather than shuffling your feet along and aim for two or three miles, at whatever speed is right for you and at your own pace.

Make it enjoyable and increase the length as you become fitter and it helps if you 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 air, which will in turn burn off more calories. Get yourself a good pair of runners or walking shoes and don't use shoes that are ancient or hurt your feet. As you get fitter, one good tip is to put a little Vaseline on your heels and toes and wear good socks to prevent friction or blisters.

To get ready for longer fast walking or to train for a marathon, I'd like to share my experience as I have completed quite a few marathons walking. To get ready for a long walk, 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.

What often slows you down is tightening in the hips and shoulders. You'll often see people walking too upright with no flexibility in the lower back and mid-range of shoulders. Their stride is not a relaxed movement and the arms may swing but the shoulders don't move. Having recently spent time on a three-day course on walking-related injuries and finding the correct walking position, I was amazed that you can make a lot of difference with some small adjustments.

For example, as I mentioned earlier, walking heel-to-toe, rolling from the heel gently forward, takes the pressure off the back of your foot and avoids metatarsal strain and shin splints. Just one simple movement can save you years of unnecessary pain. Also don't over-stretch before the walk because when your body is cold you could do more damage. The most effective time to stretch is at the end of your walk.

Hold each stretch for 15 seconds and no more. If the calves are tight, gently lower your heels down from a step or stairs, letting your heels go down as far as possible and return to starting position. Start slowly, get a walking partner and go out in all weathers.

Make sure you stay hydrated with plenty of fluids but don't drink gallons of water because taking too much water expels too much salt from the body. Stay hydrated and enjoy walking.