Fitness Basics: Walking for Fitness & Fun (cont.)

"Too many people think of exercise like medicine," says Archer, the mind-body spokeswoman for IDEA Health and Fitness Association. "It's not. It can be fun and the body will start to love it."

A Step Toward Health and Happiness

Medically, the benefits of walking are undisputed, says Little Rock, Ark., orthopaedic surgeon John Yocum, MD. Cardiovascular exercise such as walking can reduce the risk of heart disease and improve heart function and muscle tone, as well as lower blood pressure, cholesterol, risk of stroke, and risk of injury, says Yocum.

In addition, he says, "improving strength around the joints can help with degenerative joint disease."

But that's not all. "The benefits are multiple," he says, "not the least of which is the improved sense of well-being or happiness with the increased endorphin levels."

Archer, who coaches many beginning exercisers, says they have a kind of "awakening" when they begin to work out. They begin to feel better, so they sleep better, manage stress better, and get more energy in the process, says Archer. As a result, their self-esteem improves.

Former Olympic marathon runner Julie Isphording, a walking/running coach, author, columnist and host of two health and fitness radio shows for National Public Radio in Cincinnati, says she sees it often in the walkers she trains.

"People start to change their attitude," she says. "It really isn't about the walk. It's about something so much bigger; so much better. You can breathe deeper. You last longer in the day. You're running up steps."

When walkers enlist a partner, it's even better, Isphording says.

"I recommend that people find a friend to do it with -- meet at the mailbox," she says. That helps walking to become a part of the day you look forward to, not dread.

"Walking turns into more of a play-out than a workout," says Isphording.

"Social support is the most important factor when sticking to a program," says Archer. "Get a partner -- even a dog -- because that will reinforce it. We don't like to let other people down."

Isphording also encourages beginning walkers to keep a journal to chart progress.

So when you step on the scale and say, "it's not working," she says, you can look back at how far you've come. "Maybe a month ago, you couldn't walk a mile and now you're walking three," says Isphording.

In the journal, Isphording recommends you write everything down: the weather, how you felt that day, who you went with, and how far you walked.

Getting Started

Don't skimp when it comes to footwear. Yocum advises all walkers to get a good pair of walking or running shoes with arch support and the proper cushioning to prevent injury, even when they're just starting out.

"I've been in the Olympics and I can't tell you that I bounced
out of bed every morning to run."

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors