Walking: Fitness Walking Brings Bushel of Benefits (cont.)

At the other end of the spectrum, walking can also help meet children's health needs, says Charles Corbin, MD, author of the NASPE's physical activity guidelines. "Kids need to expend enough calories during the day to maintain desirable weight," he says. "Plus, they need to expend energy consistent with building bones and muscles for fitness and normal growth and development."

The Basics of Fitness Walking

Most people may think they've mastered this skill at toddler age, but certain steps apparently need to be taken in order to maximize the health benefits of going by foot:

Timetable: The Surgeon General recommends moderate amounts of activities such as a brisk walk of at least 30 minutes a day every day for overall health. The NASPE proposes that kids get more -- from 60 minutes up to several hours of physical activity (which includes walking) a day -- on most, if not all days of the week. People looking to lose weight are encouraged by the AARP to hit the pavement at least an hour a day for most days. For heart, lung, and circulation health, the AHA suggests 30 minutes of vigorous activity (including walking) a day, three to four times a week. Many of these guidelines allow time requirements to be non-continuous, with bouts of physical activity sprinkled throughout the day.

Intensity: On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 meaning relaxed and 10 thoroughly exhausted, Stein advises starting a walk at level 2 or 3, working up to level 6 to 8, and then cooling down to a 2. "The recommendation is the same for everyone," he says, "because as you get more and more fit, you actually end up having to walk faster or steeper to keep that 6 to 8 up."

Form: Stein says it doesn't matter whether someone is swinging his or her shoulders or walking straight from the hip, as long as they're comfortable and have the right intensity. Hoffmann, however, says it's best to have elbows bent at a 90 degree angle, the arms swinging freely so that they come up to about chest level, the fingers curled into a loose fist, and the feet moving forward at a brisk pace. "If your hands are just dangling at the sides, you're probably not walking fast enough to get any heart rate increase," says Hoffmann, who notes that the extremely sedentary and overweight can begin an exercise plan with a stroll and work up to a quicker pace.

Mileage: Many guidelines give recommendations on time and intensity, so distance may not necessarily be a factor. On the other hand, some walking events and campaigns with specific distance requirements have been known to be very motivating. For example, Corbin says children have loved digital pedometer programs, which have enabled them to keep track of steps during the day. Students who take a certain number of steps a day for at least five days a week for several weeks receive a President's Council Activity Award. Volkssporting groups have also given honors to walkers of all ages that have achieved particular distances.

Walking Through Life

Putting one foot ahead of the other may yet be the easiest form of exercise because it can readily be incorporated into daily life. Various sources, including the AHA, the AARP, and the NASPE, have provided the following tips, which could make fitness walking seemingly effortless whether you're doing it for love or against love handles.

At Home

  • Go out for a short walk before breakfast, after dinner, or both.
  • Walk to the corner store instead of driving.
  • Instead of asking someone to bring you a drink, get up off the couch and get it yourself.
  • Walk instead of watching TV.
  • See neighbors.
  • Walk the dog.

At Work

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Or get off a few floors early and walk the remaining flights.
  • Walk down the hall to speak to someone at the office rather than using the telephone.
  • Conduct a meeting with co-workers while taking a walk.
  • Walk around your building for a break during the work day or during lunch.

Out and About

  • Get off a stop or two early on the bus or subway, and walk the rest of the way.
  • Park farther away at the shopping mall, and walk the extra distance.
  • Walk around while waiting for a relative or friend's game to begin.
  • Walk while waiting for the plane at the airport.
  • See the sights in new cities by walking.
  • At the beach, sit and watch the waves instead of lying flat. Better yet, get up and walk, run, or fly a kite.
  • When golfing, walk instead of using a cart.

Advice for Caregivers of Children

  • Have kids walk to and from school.
  • Provide time for activity in a school setting.
  • Be an active role model.

Originally published June 30, 2003
Medically updated June 6, 2004

SOURCES: The Lyrics Domain web site. CDC web site. National Association for Sport and Physical Education. AARP. Melanie Hoffman, director of health campaigns, AARP. Anna Cottrill. American Heart Association. Richard Stein, MD, spokesman, AHA. Charles Corbin, MD, author of NASPE's "Physical Activity for Children: A Statement of Guidelines.

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Last Editorial Review: 4/12/2005 7:54:58 PM