How Far, Fast, and Frequently You Walk

To be effective, fitness walking has to be deliberate with regard to how far, fast, and frequently you walk. To continue to achieve ben­efits, you have to plan for a progressive overload. In other words, don't allow yourself to plateau at a comfortable level. Your goal is to continue to increase your pace, over time, and to improve your circulation by making your heart pump blood more effi­ciently throughout your body. Consistency is crucial so that your progress doesn't yo-yo. Your body will become conditioned to increased intensity over time but only through repeated efforts.

Walking farther, faster, or more frequently are variables; add­ing a hill or interspersing your normal pace with faster sprints can also up the challenge. But don't try to increase everything simultaneously—work on increasing haw far you walk in some sessions and how last you walk in others. While you arc build­ing speed, I suggest that you gauge your walks according to time rather than distance. If possible, begin with thirty-minute walks (fifteen minutes in each direction), the minimum goal for increasing cardiovascular health. As you become more conditioned, increase your pace to cover more distance in the allotted time.

A reasonable goal is to walk three miles in forty-five minutes, sometimes less and sometimes more. Adding a sixty-minute walk once or twice each week will definitely boost your body's fat-burning capability. Increasing your walking pace from three to four miles per hour can double the benefits. The surgeon gen­eral recommends that your thirty minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity can be accumulated, meaning you can do it in shorter bouts of ten or fifteen minutes throughout the day. And there is no law that says you have to begin each walk from your home or workplace. A brief car or bicycle ride can transport you to a variety of scenarios. One day you may enjoy a rural country setting, while another day you may prefer a walk around your neighborhood. I encourage you to get in your car and map out several three-mile routes, a mile and a half there and back.

Increased oxygen during aerobic exercise strengthens your heart and lungs. Aerobic literally means "in the presence of, or with, oxygen." Your body initially fuels the increased effort by burning excess carbohydrates. When your store of carbohy­drates has been depleted, after about twenty minutes, your body will begin to use fat for fuel—going first to the regular reserves and then the harder-to-reach places. Therefore, a longer walk will definitely burn fatter and continue to do for several hours post exercise! Carbohydrates, including sugar, that are not immediately used by your body for fuel arc converted to fat deposits for long-term storage. Excess fat is stored in areas where fat deposits are already located, such as your abdomen, hips, and thighs. Your body depends on its fat stores to keep you alive when food is scarce.
Begin and end your walk with five minutes of more casual stroll­ing, gradually increasing the intensity of your movements at the beginning and decreasing them at the end. If you choose, you can perform some gentle stretching at about five minutes into your walk. Save the more vigorous, range-of-motion stretching until your walk is completed. You may experience muscular aches and pains, particularly when you increase your goals. If you have discomfort, such as painful shin splints while walking, it is important to rest until the injury has healed. Continuing to exercise with an injury will just prolong the pain. Always respect an injury. Be sure to schedule one day of rest each week to prevent physical and psy­chological burnout. You will return to your walks with renewed vigor and conviction.
Proper Shoes for Walking
Wear appropriate, well-fitting walking shoes as this will encour­age vibrant walking and limit fatigue. Shop for shoes late in the day. When your feet are their maximum size, and try on sev­eral pairs before making your decision. Your shoes should be replaced about every 500 miles. If you walk six days per week at 3 miles per day, you will walk 18 miles per week, or 936 miles in a year. On that schedule, you will need to replace your walking shoes twice per year. I suggest, instead, that you purchase both pairs of shoes at the same time so you can alternate them to prevent potential foot irritation.

Choose shoes that provide an ade­quately roomy toe box for your toes to widen as you push off. There is nothing more annoying than sore toes caused by too short or too narrow shoes. Put your hand inside the shoe to check for protruding or rough inseams that may rub. I remem­ber when I first snow-skied with rental boots. If they didn't fit perfectly, they created hot spots on the first day that were both­ersome for the entire trip. I quickly learned that it made all the difference to own custom-fitted boots.

Choose breathable microfiber athletic socks that wick the moisture away to help your feet stay dry and blister-free. You can also use powder or petroleum jelly on your feel to mini­mize friction. In cold weather, add extra protection for your extremities.

When you're doing walking and other aerobic exercise, it's important, for maximum benefit, to keep your heart rate within a specified range. Your target heart rate zone is calculated by subtracting your age from 220 and multiplying by 50 to 80 percent. So, for example, if you're fifty years old, your target heart rate would be 102 to 136 beats per minute. A heart rate monitor allows you to measure your heart rate in real time. The monitor usually includes a chest strap transmitter and a wrist receiver that resembles a wrist watch. Some aerobic machines, such as treadmills, feature a built-in monitor that measures your heart's BPM (beats per minute) with a device that you squeeze manually. The heart rate monitor keeps you in touch with your target heart rate zone during aerobic activity and is a practical alternative to taking your pulse.

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