The Joy of Walking

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photoBill Victor, Vancouver fitness consultant.

When I address larger groups of people on the various merits of exercise, a recurring question frequently asked of me is, "Is it good for my body if I only want to walk?"

My answer,will always remain the same – emphatically, absolutely and unequivocally: "Yes!"

Although it's debatably a spectator sport, tune in to the Olympics at the end of the month to appreciate the leg strength and impact power walking has on the muscularity and lean body mass of athletes who make walking serious business.

Even though it's a sport that will never garner the support of its own team of cheerleaders, walking is well worth it and allows individuals pursuing various fitness goals the control and ability to dial up or dial down the intensity of their effort by altering the speed, terrain, use of implements (hand weights, weighted vests) or distance travelled to have significant effects on heart rate, calories burned and other metabolic changes.

Other benefits of walking include:

• Creating an increase in your high density lipoproteins -- a.k.a. the "good fats"

• Lowering hypertension -- high blood pressure

• Lowering your risk of or managing Type II diabetes

• Improving your mood (increase in body's natural endorphins, the "feel good" opiates)

• It's low impact nature is gentle on joints

For those beginning a walking program, there are a few basics to practice that will make the experience an enjoyable one -- the most important being: start slowly. One of the greatest obstacles to any fitness program is what I refer to as "over enthusiasm," where the first effort is performed at an intensity so severe that the ensuing soreness discourages an individual trying again.

Secondly, a flat terrain is probably the best place to start, since it is easy to navigate and more predictable. If you are someone who suffers knee, hip or ankle problems, walking on your local school's running track (usually rubber coated) does a good job of absorbing shock and serves as a good gauge of measurement regarding distance. Generally speaking, 4 laps around the outside lane equates to one mile.

Other aspects to your walk that make it both enjoyable and effective include:

• Walk with a friend: Conversation takes your mind off the distance and physical aspects of your effort.

• Listen to music: When walking alone, try listening to music or audio books. Practice caution and be aware of your terrain -- you won't be able to hear other environmental sounds.

• Buy a pedometer: Pedometers are devices that measure the distance you have covered, are very discreet in appearance and great for totaling daily, weekly and monthly goals.

• Heart rate: It's always a good idea to check your heart rate as you walk. While the latest devices can be worn on the wrist like watches, a brachial pulse can be taken by placing the fingers on the underside of the wrist.

• Shoes: Comfortable footwear is a must, and should address the specifics of your feet including anatomy such as high arches, flat feet, past injuries and the joint angles of your ankle.

Walking need not be painful to achieve results. In fact, it has been proven that improvement to body composition is as effective walking as running. Find a friend, take a break, and go for a walk. It could be one of the best habits you ever started.

Bill Victor is the owner of Victor Fitness System Professional Fitness Trainers, Flashpoint Athletic Speed & Agility Specialists, and Performance Nutrition Consultants. He can be reached at billv@victorfitsystems.com, 360-750-0815 and online at http://theflashpoint.org and http://VictorFitnessSystems.com.