Fun and Free Exercise Program
Walk this way toward the world’s easiest exercise
I live on a sleepy little street with a panoramic vista of the Hudson River. If a single car goes by in an hour, that’s a lot. But if it’s short on vehicles, my street is the busiest place in town for foot-powered traffic. All day long, singles and pairs and bigger groups of women walk by, some amble, others lope, all chat a mile a minute.
They have discovered a free exercise program, walking, that’s fun, with no gym membership or skill required. And, it’s easy to stick to, because no one wants to miss that precious hour of friendship on the fly for anything.
These women have discovered walking, the little exercise that could: Just about anybody can do it, and it’s good for just about anything. Here are some stats. Research has shown that walking two miles a day (don’t worry, this is not as far as you think) can lower the risk of heart disease by up to 40 percent. In one study, people with elevated fasting glucose levels reduced their risk of Type II diabetes 58 percent by walking 30 minutes, five days a week; in another, participants who walked 30 minutes three days a week for 12 weeks lowered their systolic blood pressure 5 points and reduced their waist and hip sizes an inch. Seven hours of brisk walking a week is associated with a 20 percent reduction in breast cancer risk. Women who walked for an hour and a half five days a week reported less stress and better emotional well-being. The research on benefits is broad and deep.
Getting Started, Setting Goals
Part of the beauty of walking is that you already own the equipment – a functioning pair of legs. All you need are sneakers or light hiking shoes that offer flexibility at the ball of the foot and overall support. It you’re confident about your size, there are a lot of discounters online, and some manufacturers, like Nike, have a clearance corner on their website.
If you’re out of shape, it’s okay to start slow. Pick a level route that takes 15 minutes to complete, then build from there. In the excellent manual, The Complete Guide to Walking for Health, Weight Loss and Fitness ($16.47 at amazon.com), walking guru Mark Fenton lays out a 52-week plan for getting up to speed. He recommends walking at least 10 minutes each day, logging your time, even buying a pedometer to motivate yourself. Likewise, the Mayo Clinic site, mayoclinic.com, has a good briefing with guidelines for getting started and avoiding injury. There’s substantial research that 10,000 steps a day is your ultimate goal; a recent study at San Diego State University found that 100 steps a minute is the right intensity for heart health (that’s 3,000 steps in half an hour, easy to monitor with a pedometer).
So join the women who promenade down my street for a healthier, happier future with a fun and free exercise program. Of course, as with any new exercise regimen, consult your physician first.
Read more low-cost fitness and diet ideas: Cheapskate Workouts