At a competitive extreme, walking is a track event. At the casual end of things, it is a suprisingly effective strategy for lifelong health.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Exercise can prevent or combat heart disease. Research consistently confirms that ongoing exercise can drastically reduce your risk of heart attack.

Walking is the number one choice of exercise in the nation. Overall health benefits,"do-ability", safety, convenience and enjoyment are considered second to none. Plus; sidewalks, quiet streets, parks,school tracks and malls are free-of-charge.

A recently released study on women and cardiology found that women who walked one hour three times a week reduce their risks of heart attack by 40%.

Even leisure walking, when done regularly, can improve cholesterol, circulation and respiratory functions, sleep, reduce heart disease; lower blood pressure; relieve stress, and enhance psychological well-being. The benefits of walking, as with any sound exercise program, can be lifesaving.

Also, effective weight management programs promote exercise in conjunction with healthy nutrition. Studies show that walkers traveling faster than five miles an hour actually burn twice as many calories as runners going the same speed.

Getting Started

To begin a walking program, keep in mind that this is for a lifetime of health, not overnight magic. For now, forget stop watches, heart rates, and technique. Just go for a walk at a comfortable pace slightly above a stroll for 15 to 30 minutes. (If you are over 45 and just starting to exercise, check with a physician first.)

Beyond Strolling

Measure your time. Time how long it takes you to walk a mile comfortably on flat ground. Chances are it'll take 15 to 20 minutes. That's your starting capacity - build from there.

Measure several courses. Use your car's odometer or a pedometer to measure different routes for variety. Check with local malls, schools, parks or churches about their course availability and distances. Establish several two mile courses.

Measure your intensity. Figure your maximum heart rate: subtract your age age from 220. Multiply the result by.6 and .9 for the bottom and top of your target zone for aerobic training.

Set your frequency. The goal is three to five times a week, with a heart rate in your target zone for 15 to 60 minutes. Schedule your walks in advance. Keep the appointment.

Get Going. The proper technique is not as important as getting out there and doing something. Healthy people are generally active. Walking increases energy and stamina and the ability to stay active. So begin at the beginning... get going.

Keep it up. To make walking a habit takes will power - and sometimes, strategy. Schedule regular walks with a friend for an extra push. Walk first thing in the morning before other commitments or fresh demands crop up. Vary your route to keep it interesting. Join a walking club. Get a dog. Just do it. Finally, think of it as time you've set aside for yourself, not as exercise. Have the time of your life for your life.

What to Wear

All you really need is a good pair of properly fitted walking shoes and loose fitting clothes. Choose athletic shoes with a firm heel cup for stability, a rocker sole to enhance a smooth heel-to-toe motion, and plenty of room for toes so they can spread out as they push off. Wear loose, comfortable clothing and sunscreen.

Before and After

Warm up (walk five minutes) and stretch before beginning your walk. Afterwards, cool down by repeating the stretching exercises or walking 3 - 5 minutes at a much slower gait.

Before, during and after walking, drink water. Residents in warm weather states need to take extra precautions against dehydration, especially during warm months.

When the weather is bad or climate is uncomfortable, shopping malls are a popular alternative to outdoor walking, and in Northeast Florida, mall-walkers have ample opportunities.

For more information on walking clubs and available hours, contact The Avenues Mall (363-3060), Orange Park Mall (269-2422), or Regency Square Mall (725-1220).


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