Walking for Weight Loss

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How many of us have started a rigorous exercise plan for weight loss, only to decide that we don't really like hopping around to workout tapes in the living room – or maybe we can't always muster up the energy to jog. 

The bottom line is this: The most effective weight loss and exercise plan is the one that you truly enjoy because that's the program that you will stick with over the long term.

Why walk? 

Of all the exercise regimens for losing weight, walking is perhaps the simplest and cheapest. It can also be one of the most effective, largely because walking is an exercise that many of us enjoy and will actually carve time out of their busy days to do on a regular basis.

It's so easy to multitask when you walk, too. Maybe you'll walk to a particular destination, use the time to catch up with a friend, or to spend some quality time in the outdoors with your pet or children. 

Walking carries with it the same benefits of many other types of physical exercise: It helps strengthen the heart and lungs, improves circulation, burns calories, increases your confidence, reduces the risk of certain diseases, strengthens the bones, improves muscle tone, and just generally brightens your mood. 
Walking for Weight Loss Results

When you are just starting your walking regimen, most experts recommend that you focus on distance before you focus on speed. If you get too caught up on your intensity, you may burn out before you have truly established your walking routine. 

I try not to focus on how many calories I'm burning at all, but instead on how much I'm enjoying myself along the way. My daily walks are my gifts to myself; time to walk out in the wide, wide world. 

More personally fulfilling, however, is the ability to be out in nature, with only your thoughts (or your music or audiobook) for a prescribed time each day. 

A walking regimen can help you lose weight, but you'll need to make sure you're walking long enough and/or fast enough to get your heart rate up and to burn calories. 

Experts say you can burn roughly the same number of calories with a short, fast walk as with a long, slower walk. The biggest factor in your overall success will be your consistency. Make sure that you choose the right combination of pace and intensity that keeps the exercise fun for you. 

There will be some days on which you want to take a long stroll. On other days, you may want to power-walk and really get your heart pumping. Again, the most important factor is that you create a walking habit that you can imagine yourself continuing over the long term. Most walking fitness experts recommend getting out there at least 5 days a week, for 30 to 60 minutes at a time. 

If you can't walk for 30 minutes when you are just starting out, start with goals of 10 or 15 or 20 minutes and work your way up. It won't take long before you are walking for longer times and longer distances, especially if you make a goal to walk nearly every day. 

You can also build endurance through interval training, in which you walk quickly for a few minutes, and then slow it down for a few minutes. Alternating between higher- and lower-intensity intervals throughout your workout can get your heart pumping and help you to quickly build physical endurance.

For maximum benefit, you'll want to make sure that you are walking fast enough to increase your heart rate. Fitness experts say that, to lose weight, you need to be walking for 30 to 60 minutes at 50 to 70% of your maximum heart rate. And the American Heart Association recommends the "conversation test": you want to be able to talk while you're walking. If you're too out of breath to carry on a conversation, slow it down. Of course, you'll also need to stretch your muscles before you begin your walk and walk slowly for five minutes before and after the workout. 
Burn more calories

Beyond simply picking up the pace or walking longer distances to burn more calories, you can also burn more more calories by choosing a route with hills, strapping on small weights (either on your wrists or ankles), or by pushing a jogging stroller. 

As you develop your own walking routine, there are lots of techniques you can use to build muscle tone as you walk, too. By concentrating on keeping a good posture, by flexing your leg muscles, and by holding in your stomach, for example, you can maximize the time you spend in your walking shoes. 

Again, consistency is key. When you walk, it can become more a part of your routine because it's something you can do nearly every day. When I do some of the more high intensity workouts, I sometimes need to take a day off in between workouts, which can make it easier to skip because it's not a part of my schedule every single day. 
A couple of other important considerations: 
Make sure you have a good pair of walking shoes, which will help you avoid injury – and make your walks more comfortable. Check out these coupons and special offers for our favorite online shoe stores: shoes.com and Shoebuy.com 

Drink lots of water. Water hydration backpacks (such as the Camelbak) are fantastic inventions. The Camelbak shown at right is the CamelBak Pixie Hydration Pack - 35 oz. Everyone in our family (including each of our kids) has their own camelbak, and it makes it so easy to stay hydrated on hikes and long walks. Camelbak also makes a lumbar version of their hydration pack, such as the FlashFlo Hydration Lumbar Pack, which is like a large fanny pack.) Sierra Trading Post carries Camelbak. Coupons are here

Keep it fun, fresh, and exciting

Here are few ideas to help you make walking a fun adventure each day. 

Take a dog. When I take my dog along, I feel as though I'm doing something constructive with my time. If you don't have a dog, see if there is an animal shelter in your area that needs volunteer dog walkers. This is a great way to do a good deed and fit in your walking workout at the same time. 

omron pedomoterUse a pedometer. It's fun and motivational to challenge yourself to take a certain number of steps each day. The pedometer pictured is the Omron HJ-112. I've consistently seen this pedometer rated highly. It has been featured in Prevention magazine and the Los Angeles Times. The Omron HJ-112 measures steps, distance, and calories burned. Amazon.com has this pedometer in stock at a significant discount (The Omron HJ-112 is only $19.82 at the time of this writing. That's a 50% discount.)  There's another version available from the link above that allows you to download your workout information into a computer.) 

Find new walking or hiking trails in your town or outlying areas. 

Take a camera and explore your world during your daily walks. 

Download audiobooks from audible.com or jiggerbug.com and catch up on your reading while you walk. You can download classics, contemporary fiction, romance, or motivational self help. 

Schedule your walking time like any other important event in your busy day. Put it on your calendar. 

Find a friend to be your walking partner. Your friend will hold you accountable and may make the miles seem to pass more quickly. Sometimes, when we get very busy, our friendships can become neglected. When you walk with a friend, you carve out time for physical fitness and your friendship. 

Take the kids. If you have small children, take them out in the stroller. Older kids can walk or ride their bikes alongside you. 

Be Safe 
Here are some important considerations to make sure your walking program is a safe one. 

Try not to go alone. Walking with a friend – or a dog – is safer than walking alone. 

Tell someone when you are leaving, where you are going, and when you expect to return. 

Don't bring valuables with you on your walk. 

Vary your route.

Stay in well-lit, busy areas. 

Stay alert. Keep your headphones on a low setting so you can still hear what's going on around you. 

When you challenge yourself and walk on a consistent basis, you're bound to see changes in your fitness level, mood, and your waistline.   

Note: The tips in this article are for general information only. Before starting any exercise routine, you should consult with your doctor. 

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