Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thoughts on Walking

Not long ago, a woman came to me in a terrible state.  She'd lost her job, gained weight (and she was already heavier than health would dictate), was depressed, and she needed to start moving.  Problem was, she had it in her head that the only way she could be successful was to "kill" herself with 3 plus hours of intense exercise a day.  What?!  She also felt that she should be doing exercises that incorporated upper and lower body, since those would burn more calories.  And she had just been through boot camp program (which she didn't finish),  that advised her she should only participate if she could walk a mile.  Alas, she couldn't.

Back tracking to the beginning, she was sedentary, and just beginning an exercise program.  She was heavy (about 300#), so movement would initially be difficult, and potentially hazardous.  When I tested what she could do, even a sidestep with a side raise was too much for her.  I could tell that if her mind set didn't change, she would continue to be unsuccessful, and continue down the wrong path.

What I recommended was a walking program to begin.  Walking, especially as you can begin to walk briskly (equal to or greater than 3.5mph, according to the CDC), can be a great way to get in shape and stay in shape.  While the 3.5 mph is a guideline, you need to target your heart rate to 50-70% Maximal Heart Rate (MHR), or 5-7 on your scale of 1-10 perceived exertion.  You can also use the Talk Test:  you should be breathing deeply, but still be able to talk.    Proper posture and form are important during your walk, as well.  Shoulders should be back, with the arms swinging at the sides, tummy tight, and eyes forward.

Begin with a small goal that you can easily reach, and stay with that for a week.  Plot out a mile in your neighborhood, for example, and walk that mile every day for the week.  Then add on just a quarter mile more for the next week.  Little by little, your body will adjust and start to change for the better.  Your endurance will increase.  You will be able to walk a bit faster.  Add some music you love and VOILA!  Success!

To get started try this 12-week walking program from the Harvard Medical School.

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