Walking for Fitness

By Williamson, Joseph F. | Sunset, February 1992 | Go to article overview

Walking for Fitness


Williamson, Joseph F., Sunset


In case you aren't acquainted with fitness walking for exercise, it's the act of walking as fast as you can. To derive fitness and health benefits, you need to walk for 20 to 60 minutes at a time, at least twice a week; devotees walk daily. As physical exercise, it has much going for it.

You can work up a sweat, breathe hard, and benefit your circulatory system, all with a much reduced probability of damaging your joints (compared with the likelihood in jogging). You don't need coaching or training. You don't need a gym, court, pool, ball, bat, racket, bicycle, or any other equipment. All you need are comfortable clothes and a properly cushioned pair of shoes.

Also, walking allows you to see and sense the region you pass through more thoroughly than you can while running, bicycling, or driving.

What mainly sets running and walking apart is that runners' knees are bent when their feet hit the ground, but walkers' legs are straight. Here's how speed compare: earnest fitness walking, 4 mph; average jogging, 7 mph; Olympic racewalking, 9 mph; and 4-minute-mile running, 15 mph.

Why walk?

How far? How fast?

Most readers see fitness walking as an alternative to jogging or biking in order to maintain physical fitness. Many started for the specific purposes of losing and maintaining weight, or to strengthen back muscles in order to prevent a recurrence of back trouble. Many are former runners who--because they are concerned about continuing wear on the skeletal system--switched to walking.

Although fitness walkers do it primarily for the exercise, they are also able to enjoy some extras, such as sightseeing or neighborhood-watching. Another reason to walk, mentioned repeatedly, is companionship. Walking allows conversation better than jogging and running do.

For some, getting out of the house is reason enough. A Sacramento walker says, "I used to get very depressed in the gloomy Valley winters, not seeing sunshine for days at a time. But I've found that when I bundle up and get out in the weather, it does something positive for my outlook. I no longer feel like a hibernating bear."

Exercising the dog can also be an incentive to walk. But this can bring up a whole set of potentially problematic social situations: dog meets another dog, dog meets cat, dog meets other walkers and runners. And you may need to slow down to pick up after you dog.

Some readers even collect and bag trash as they walk. Although they lose some benefits of fitness walking, they probably make up for it in satisfaction and exercise of muscles used to bend over.

A quarter of our walker-readers walk daily. More than hald do it five or more days a week. The distances they cover range from 1 1/2 to 12 miles, with by far the largest number walking from 2 to 4 miles on each walk. They clock themselves at 3 to 6 mph, with most walking at 4 mph. …

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