You know how to walk, but do you know the best way to walk? Stand up straight, keep your chin parallel to the ground, and move with a sense of purpose. Your ears should be directly over your shoulders, hips, knees, and feet. Arms should swing freely, and when you want to pick up the pace, bend your elbows to an 85-degree angle and keep them close to your body. Your hands should never rise above mid-chest level or fall past your hips, says Kathie Smith. "Your arms are like pistons -- boom, boom."
An easy way to remind yourself is to think R-A-C-E-S:
To really work, lean your entire body slightly forward as if a rope is around your chest pulling you. Your steps move in closer, with one foot in front of the other as if you were walking a tightrope. But stick to the same pace.
To help keep your head up, scan the path by looking 15 feet ahead and lowering your eyes, not your chin. Keep your hands free by wearing your portable radio, heart monitor, or water bottle on a hip belt. Skip leg and hand weights, which throw off your gait and could hurt your back and shoulders.
Strive to exert yourself at level 6 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 0 being very relaxed and 10 being your maximum output. You should be able to talk, but not be able to sing, says Smith. "If you're panting, you're working too hard."
Those into mental aerobics also can use a heart monitor, striving for 60 to 80 percent of maximum heart rate. To determine how fast your heart should beat in a minute, you subtract your age and your resting heart rate from 226. Multiply the resulting figure by 60 percent and add in your resting heart rate. For example, if you're 40 years old and your resting heart rate is 75:
(226 - 40 - 75) x .60 = 66.6
66.6 + 75 = 142 (rounded)
To get aerobic benefit, your heart rate during exercise should be about 142 beats per minute.
You can also use Fenton's trick to determine whether you're walking fast enough for aerobic fitness benefits or just enough to lower your heart-attack risk: Count how many steps you take. If you are taking 30 to 40 steps in 20 seconds, you're getting health benefits. To tone and hone your body, you need to exceed 45 steps in 20 seconds. (Every time a foot hits the ground counts as a step.)
This basic, yet demanding walking program was designed by Kathy Smith, fitness video instructor and author of Walkfit for a Better Body (Warner Books, 1994).
Truly the feel-good sport, walking allows you to escape stress, lose weight, boost your energy, raise your HDL (good) cholesterol, and reduce your risk of diabetes and osteoporosis. And you can do it anytime, anyplace.
The more quickly you walk, the faster the calories burn. A 140-pound woman burns about 4 calories a minute if she walks a mile in 20 minutes (or 3 miles per hour). The calories jump to 5.2 per minute for a 15-minute mile (4 mph) or 7.7 per minute for a 12-minute mile (5 mph).
Walking is an equal opportunity exercise, says Kathy Smith, a fitness instructor who created a walking program exclusively for Better Homes & Gardens magazine. "There aren't any biases against uncoordinated people, and everyone knows how to do it. It's a 'no excuses workout' because you don't need equipment or a gym."
You don't even have to walk outside to get health benefits. A treadmill burns more calories and raises cardiovascular fitness more effectively than stationary bikes, stair climbers, rowers, and ski machines, according to a 1996 study by the Medical College of Wisconsin and Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Milwaukee. Why? The researchers believe that people work harder while walking because it's something they do every day.
To avoid injury, start every walk with a five-minute stroll and these stretches: