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features & articles : Walk for Your Life!
Taking Strides Towards Better Health & Fitness

"You're not a big loser if you're not walking 30 minutes a day," concedes Mark Fenton, editor-at-large of Walking magazine, author of the magazine's upcoming book, Walking Magazine's Complete Guide to Walking for Health and Fitness, a champion race walker, and probably the nation's foremost authority on the subject of walking for health. "But an environment for walking should be present in your life."

How does one create a positive environment for walking?

It all starts with you.

Comfortable and Purposeful.
Create a daily walking habit. From smoking cigarettes to eating too many sweets, we all know that, once begun, habits are hard to break. But sometimes it's easier to initiate and add good habits before you try breaking the bad ones. And if you follow our simple guidelines, getting hooked on walking will be a lot more addictive than you think.

Ideally, you'll begin walking at a brisk pace for at least 30 minutes a day. That's the amount recommended by the Surgeon General.

Brisk and Vigorous.
If you're up to walking 30 minutes briskly every day, don't stop! In fact, keep going for another quarter or half hour. Walking 45 to 60 minutes every day puts you into a good range for losing weight. If shedding a few inches is part of your goal, try extending at least 4 of your daily walks to the 45 minute zone, and alloting an hour and a half once a week for a special, long, refreshing hike or walk. You'll also notice even greater overall health benefits.

Some easy ways to increase your walking time are to adopt a walking buddy- a friend whom you enjoy long walks and talks, who shares your conversation as easily as she or he matches your pace. Schedule your walks as if they were important appointments that you absolutely can't miss. The extra minutes you spend walking will fly by.

Check to see if a walking club exists in your area and become involved- or simply start your own.

And vary your walk a little. Walk in new places, or take a different turn once in a while. Walk at a different time of day than you usually do, if your schedule permits. When you have an errand to run, walk it! You might start by walking for your groceries.

When you don't have time to walk longer—walk faster!

Walk at the point where you are sweating, where your breathing is noticeable (but not painful.) You may be panting a little bit but you should still be able to carry on a conversation. As Mark Fenton of Walking magazine likes to mention in the walking speeches he gives around the country, it's the difference between being able to gossip to your walking buddy "Oh did you see Marge's new haircut? (pant) I really didn't like it." and barely getting out "See Marge... (pant, pant)... new hair (pant)... didn't like."

Fenton is also quick to point out that walking at a fast clip still doesn't preclude lifestyle walking. No matter how much of a Speedy Gonzales you are, you can even fit fast walking into your daily routine. "Put it this way," Fenton offers. "On the days I work in downtown Boston, I take a ferry. Then I have a 14 minute walk to the magazine offices ahead of me, which I usually do in 10 minutes at a pace I would call 'comfortably brisk.' But in the evening after work, in order to reach the ferry, I really have to fly. Then I'm walking at a pace I'd call 'frantically fast.'"

So, you say, I'm ready to try the frantically fast. Just how fast is fast walking?

Only 20% of Americans have the time, wherewithal, and physical motivation to walk. They walk for fitness—whether they're setting out for a brisk walk at the park, or simply fitting walking into their normal daily routine. Now walking is both a pleasure and a necessity. They've made the extraordinary effort to make walking a part of their lives. Shouldn't you, too?

• Reduces risk of cardiovascular disease (the #1 killer in America)

• Reduces risk of diabetes (affects 16 million Americans)

• Reduces risk of obesity (a contributing factor to all of the above and a   serious American epidemic)

• Reduces risk of osteoporosis

• Lowers blood pressure (a risk factor for cardiovascular disease)

• Lowers cholesterol level (a risk factor for cardiovascular disease)

• Cuts your chances of getting cancer

• Helps curb clinical depression

If you're not fit enough to walk for a half hour at a brisk pace, then start slowly, with smaller durations. You want to challenge yourself, but within reason. Obviously if you're huffing and puffing after a couple minutes, you're doing too much.

If you can comfortably walk, say, ten minutes without unreasonable strain, then make a habit of walking ten minutes at a time. You should end the walk on a good note, feeling that you've accomplished something—and looking forward to tomorrow's walk.

After a week, add a couple minutes to your walk, and continue to do so on a weekly basis. Don't add more than 10 or 20% of walking time per week. Do try adding "bursts"—a minute or two of fast walking—into your regular walk. This will make it easier to eventually step up your overall pace so that, after several weeks of steady improvements, you too can meet the Surgeon General's recommended walking "dosage."

And always consult your personal physician when beginning any new exercise or diet program.

Well, first of all, it needn't be 30 minutes all at once, assures Mark Fenton, editor-at-large of Walking magazine. In fact, three daily walks of ten minutes each if done briskly and with purpose can achieve the same effect as a 30 minute walk. Finding 30 minutes a day may be a lot easier than you think. And, remember, doing something is better than doing nothing at all. Thirty minutes is not some magical threshold below which nothing does any good. Thirty minutes is simply the amount of walking time per day which garners substantial health benefits. Walking even as little as ten minutes a day is better for you than well, just sitting there. What can you achieve in 30 minutes?