Many times at my lectures and seminars, I ask members of the audience for examples of aerobic exercise. The majority of the time, the first answer is running or jogging. When we hear the word fitness, we conjure up images of people running hard and sweating profusely. We often think of top finishers in marathons crossing the finish line. As beneficial as running is (and I used to put in more kilometers a week running than you can imagine), it has its down sides also. The amount of effort needed to both build up to being a runner and to maintain running is significant. But the risk of injury to a runner is many times greater than many of the other forms of aerobic exercise. Running is an extremely efficient way to stay aerobically fit and yields fantastic results, but it isn’t for everyone.
Two studies were released a few weeks ago showing that many of the great benefits of running are also true of walking—we just have to do it a little bit longer. Aerobic exercise most days of the week is vital to our health and wellbeing. This is independent of the need to lose weight. It makes no difference if a person is overweight, ideal weight, or even a little underweight, cardiovascular exercise will keep you healthy, enhance your quality of life and hopefully keep you out of the doctor’s office. We know that it reduces blood pressure, reduces the risk of heart attack and stroke, increases your good cholesterol and decreases total cholesterol. Aerobic exercise decreases body fat stores and increases aerobic work capacity. You will have increased heart function, reduction in mortality in post heart attack patients and it prevents type 2 diabetes. It even lowers the risk of dementia and Alzheimer. The risk of osteoporosis, gallstones and peripheral vascular disease will be decreased. It lowers the risk of falls and 12 kinds of cancer. Aerobic exercise is the single best predictor of not gaining back lost weight and it helps prevent lower back pain. In short, there is immense benefit and just about no down side. And now we know that even enough moderate exercise like walking can do the trick.
According to Paul Williams, PhD, of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., and Paul Thompson, MD, of Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Conn, spending the same amount of energy either running or walking yielded similar reductions in the risks of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and coronary heart disease. Analysis of two large cohorts suggested that runners usually expend about twice as much energy as walkers and therefore reap greater health benefit. (Williams and Thompson reported online in Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology). “The more the runners ran and the walkers walked, the better off they were in health benefits,” Williams said in a statement. “If the amount of energy expended was the same between the two groups, then the health benefits were comparable.” “Walking may be a more sustainable activity for some people when compared to running,” he added. “However, those who choose running end up exercising twice as much as those who choose walking … probably because they can do twice as much in an hour.”
Walking and running use similar muscles and similar motions. What is different is the intensity. But walking for more time and longer distances compensates for the lesser intensity. If you would run for 30 minutes, you might have to walk for 50-55 minutes to get the equivalent result. You can choose to walk anywhere instead of driving or using public transportation. And you can certainly get off the bus or train a stop or two earlier to get in 10 more minutes of walking. Are you the type to drive around the block 10 times to find a close parking space or can you park three or four blocks away and walk a little more (and save time!).
Obviously even within the walking, some intensity is needed. A Shabbos stroll isn’t what we have in mind, but again, just moderate intensity as long as you put in your time can do the trick. Speed is one way to get the proper intensity, but going up hills or stairs is another. Start at a comfortable pace, walking as though you are slightly late for an appointment. Use the “talk test.” If you can’t say your name three times in a row, you are pushing too hard. You should aim for a minimum of 3.5miles per hour (5.6 kph). For those of you who may want to work up to a power walk, you will want to eventually reach 4.5 mph (7.2 kph) or more. The recommended minimum time for walking is 30-40 minutes; however, if you are a beginner, start off slowly and gradually build up to that amount.
Maintain good posture while you are walking and look straight ahead. Swinging your arms will increase your caloric burn greatly, but make sure your arms are going in a forward direction and not crossing in front of you. A good, sturdy pair of walking shoes is essential. Typically, shoes need to be replaced about every 400-500 miles of walking.
The two biggest complaints people have that lead to not exercising are time and money. Walking is free and you can fit it into your day. Do it enough and achieve great health benefits. You don’t have to run in order to lower your risks of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and coronary heart disease. And of course you will “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a LIFESTYLE FITNESS COACH with over 17 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! along with Linda Holtz M.Sc. His web site – www.loseit.co.il