It’s clear that regular aerobic exercise is essential for you to attain optimal fitness and health. But I want to re-emphasize that I’m not talking about a no-pain, no-gain exercise program that will fall by the wayside as quickly as you start it. Instead, incorporate into your lifestyle an ongoing, long-term natural aerobic exercise routine that will greatly improve your energy levels, stamina and endurance, while helping you tone the aerobic muscles and train your body to burn more fat for energy. Physical activity should be something that you look forward to continuing for a lifetime. Exercise programs are quite individual. Some people just want to stay fit and healthy, and keep their weight in check. Others have goals such as training for the Ironman Triathlon. For either of these types, and for everyone in between, many basic principles are the same. All people who exercise want to gradually build up to a specific level, using the 180 Formula to improve aerobic fitness. Additionally, anyone on an exercise plan needs to balance this program with everything else in his or her life, including proper rest and recovery. I’ve trained many world class and professional athletes using these same principles outlined in this book; likewise for those just beginning. The volume of training is the difference. For serious athletes, training paces get significantly faster as their aerobic systems improve.
Walking Your Way to Fitness
Nothing is better than walking for overall fitness and health. Of all the types of exercise, walking is the one I recommend the most, and not just for beginners, but for regular exercisers and even professional athletes. It’s the most fail-safe exercise. Scientific studies show that walking burns a higher percentage of fat than any other activity because of its low intensity. Walking activates the small aerobic muscle fibers, which often are not stimulated by higher-intensity aerobic workouts.
Walking also helps circulate blood, process lactic acid and improve lymph drainage (important to the body’s waste-removal system).
Walking is one of the best ways to get started on an exercise program since it’s a simple, low-stress workout that is not easily overdone. Walkers generally have little difficulty keeping their heart rates from getting too high, though there are exceptions. If there’s a problem with walking, it’s that the heart rate won’t go high enough into the maximum aerobic range (which isn’t absolutely necessary). The mechanics of walking result in less gravity stress than you experience jogging or running, but still enough to give you the important fatburning benefits, and others such as bone-strengthening effects
We’ve all heard and read about the many wonderful benefits of exercise. But did you know most studies that demonstrate these great benefits were done using walking? You don’t need to make exercise complicated, expensive or intense. And I’m talking about just an easy walk — not power walking, race walking or carrying weights. Here are some of the facts about the benefits of easy walking:
- Regular, easy walking increases life expectancy. It also helps older adults maintain their functional independence, an important concern for society. Currently, the average number of non-functional years in our elderly population is about 12. That’s a dozen years at the end of a lifespan of doing nothing: unable to care for yourself, walk, be productive or just enjoy life.
- Regular, easy physical exercise such as walking can help prevent and manage coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States, as well as hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis and depression. This occurs through improved balance of blood fats, better clotting factors, improved circulation and the ability to more efficiently regulate blood sugar.
- Regular exercise like walking decreases your risk of developing degenerative disease. The lack of exercise places more people at risk for coronary heart disease than all other risk factors. Aerobic deficiency is an independ
ent risk factor for coronary heart disease, doubling the risk. Inactivity is almost as great a risk for coronary heart disease as cigarette smoking and hypertension.
- Walking is associated with a lower rate of colon cancer, stroke and low-back injury.
All this can be accomplished with easy aerobic exercise. How easy? The equivalent of a sustained 30-minute walk, four or five times a week. Less than 30 percent of Americans are this active, including children who spend most of their spare time watching TV.
For some people, especially those who have been very inactive, very overweight or have chronic illness, even walking may pose overexercise problems. Whether 18 or 80, if you’re beginning an exercise program, or have been inactive for a period of time and now want to start walking, consider using a heart monitor to take the guesswork out of your walk. I’ve seen too many beginners walking with too high a heart rate. It’s often because they’re with other people and the instinct to be competitive comes into play. Talking while walking also increases the heart rate, and so does walking up a hill too fast before some level of fitness has been achieved. Former athletes seeking to restore their fitness can benefit from walking; it keeps them from being too aggressive early in their programs. The most important thing for a walker to realize is that it’s a fat-burning and endurance routine. Don’t worry about speed; instead, concern yourself with endurance. Base your walking on time rather than miles.
Dave, a former college All-American, was in his middle-40s, overweight and feeling the effects of work stress. Since he was in the athletic-apparel business, he wanted to appear more fit. He began walking on the high-school track almost every evening. He got out of breath and tired easily, so he kept his pace relatively slow. After a couple of months with virtually no results, Dave asked for help. I told him to perform his walk as he usually does, but with a heart monitor. To our surprise, his heart rate exceeded 170 and stayed there for nearly the entire workout. Once Dave began using a heart monitor regularly and kept his rate at the prescribed level of 130, it was only a couple of weeks before he felt some positive results. And within a couple of months, Dave was thinner, had more energy and was walking faster.
Walking for the Non-Walking Competitor
Walking is also valuable to the competitive athlete whose sport may be cycling, running or any other more intense aerobic or anaerobic activity. Walking can be used as part of a warm-up and cool-down. Competitive athletes, when they’re in a rush or working out with others, often don’t warm up and cool down enough or properly. One way to ensure this is done is to walk for 5 or 10 minutes before each workout. Even if you bike or swim, a walk is a good way to warm up. The same is true for cooling down. When you get off your bike or get out of the pool, go for an easy walk to cool down. If you make it a habit, you won’t feel right missing it.
Besides the cross-training effect on your muscles and nervous system, walking helps train muscle fibers you might not normally use in your workout. These are the very small aerobic fibers used during low-intensity activity. Many trained athletes say their weekly walk initially made them sore. That’s due to the lack of use of these small muscle fibers, which also help break down lactic acid and bring more blood to the anaerobic fibers.
Walking is also a useful physical therapy following an injury or a period in which you have decreased your workouts for any reason. If you’re injured, you may be unable to run or ride but have no trouble walking. Doing an easy aerobic workout is much better than doing nothing. And walking is a good way to come back from a period of time off without throwing your body back into high-level workouts.
Sometimes, even walking is difficult due to an injury or some other problem. Try walking in a pool in waist- or chest-high water. Gradually walk in shallower water before trying it on dry land.
As great as walking can be, many people feel uncomfortable about doing it. They somehow feel it’s not enough of a workout, or it’s too easy. It’s that no-pain, no-gain feeling your nervous system has recorded in its memory. It’s time to add some new memory.