• Teresa Heitzmann, MSPT,

Walking for Fitness: Make it Count


Walking has become my daily dose of medicine over these past few weeks. The beautiful spring weather, the budding trees, and the gorgeous wildlife are all pleasant reminders that the world continues to move forward, and that eventually things WILL get back to normal. In the meantime, I know we are all fighting to maintain some normalcy, keep a schedule of sorts, and get ready for our return to the lives we love. I’ve also discovered that walking can be a great workout when our normal fitness routines have been tossed to the curb! Walking is an excellent way to keep our minds and bodies healthy as we shelter in place. Studies show time and time again that walking for fitness is one of THE BEST medicines available in the management of disease, immunity, and healthy aging. Not to mention that it is extremely inexpensive, can be done just about anywhere, and does not require much preparation. A good pair of walking shoes, a water bottle, and comfortable, weather appropriate clothing are all we really need! The Benefits of Daily walking are endless. Improved strength, balance, flexibility, bone density, cardiovascular fitness, and mood, are just a few benefits that have a great impact on our daily lives and our overall happiness! So how do we make the most of our walks?? It’s important to understand just how much and how brisk our walks should be to get the greatest benefits. Slow, casual walking with our loved ones is wonderful and highly recommended! However, if we want our walks to really count, and we are ready to take our walking to the next level, we need to step it up, literally! First and foremost: Always understand your medical limitations and seek clearance from your health care provider if you have any concerns about starting a new walking for fitness program. Target Heart Rate: Monitoring your HR will help guide your progression. Always check your resting heart rate (HR) prior to starting. Work toward your target HR while you walk (you can determine your target HR on your smart phone or computer at lifespanfitness.com). Always recheck your resting HR a few minutes after completing your walk. Your HR should return to the resting HR level within 2-3 minutes. 10,000 steps per day seems to be the magic number we are all familiar with. This comes from the guidelines established by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Surgeon General's recommendation to log at least 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week. Ten thousand steps translates to roughly 5 miles! However, starting with just 1-2000 steps at a time is a great place to begin if walking exercise is new for you. Furthermore, simply walking 10,000 steps per day is not enough to improve strength and cardiovascular fitness. Adding speed and intention to your walks WILL help you get it done. Gradually building up your distance and speed with the goal of 10,000 steps is a perfect long term plan! Use your smart phone, your Fitbit, or simply a pedometer to track your steps. Set small, manageable goals for yourself, and keep track of your progress! Everyone is different and will have different goals. Also, it’s easy to enhance your daily steps simply by parking at the end of the grocery parking lot, adding an extra walk to your day, taking your pup for a long walk, etc... Increased walking speed and strength training has a great impact on fitness. Here are a few tips to turn your walk into a calorie burning, fitness workout: 1. Brisk Walking: To begin, walk at a casual speed to warm up cold muscles, for just a few minutes. When you are ready for your brisk walk, stand tall with shoulders back and down, tighten up your glutes and abs, and pump your arms slightly. Keep your stride short and quick, always stepping with heel first and pushing off with toes as you lift your foot off the ground. Breathe deeply and evenly with your head up. A slow-down and a few stretches at the end of your walk will help you to get the most from your exercise session. 2. Interval speed walking: Time yourself for brief periods (30 seconds is a good place to start), and walk at a very brisk pace, tightening your core, your hips, and your arms in a runner’s fashion. After 30 seconds return to your normal, relaxed walking speed. Add this periodically throughout your walk, and increase the 30 seconds to 1 minute as your tolerance improves. You will burn more calories and improve strength in your arms, legs, and core! 3. Strength: Add light hand weights (1 lb to start – water bottles work great!) to your walks. Add mini squats or a set of 10 lunges periodically throughout your walk (as long as you are able to do so without joint pain). Make sure you use good technique with foot and knee placement, never allowing knees to move forward of toes during squats or lunges. Walking backwards for 20 steps is also a nice challenge! 4. Restricted Indoors: Stair Climbs: Stuck indoors?? Time yourself going up and down a flight of stairs. Try 1 minute up and down, followed by 1 minute of rest. Do three sets for a total of 6 minutes. Start at a comfortable speed for the first set, and build your time and speed as you improve. This is a GREAT way to improve cardiovascular fitness and Strength in a relatively short time! 5. Balance: Try standing on one leg for 1-2 minutes, and then repeat on the other leg. Repeat 3x on each leg with 2 min rest in between. This is a great way to improve hip strength, hip bone density, and balance, while stuck indoors. This is very easy to do, and can be done holding on to a kitchen or bathroom counter, without holding on to anything, or while standing on an unsteady surface for a bigger challenge. 6. Balance and Strength: Calf raises on and off throughout the day. Both legs at the same time or single leg if your balance is good. 3 sets of 10-15, up to 100/day. This is an excellent way to improve strength and balance in the lower body when stuck indoors. It is super easy to do, and can be done holding on to a counter top, or without holding on. Calf Strength is currently one of the leading predictors of falls in the elderly. In other words, keep those calves strong! Enjoy your walks and enjoy the beauty around you! Mother Nature is doing her part and has given us a beautiful landscape to keep us smiling and hopeful for the future. I am certainly looking forward to getting back to my busy routine and seeing all of my people, and I know that all of you are too. Hopefully with our return to life our new normal will be a little healthier, and a little more appreciated than ever before. Stay well everyone, and let’s keep on walking through this challenge 😊


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©2017 TERESA HEITZMANN, MSPT, LLC.