Walking wonder

Step up your weight loss with effective, calorie-burning strides

As babies we start learning to walk around our first birthday. After a few months of precarious staggering, tottering and perfecting our balance, it becomes second nature. By the time we are 80 years old, we will have clocked up 216,262,500 steps, based on 7,500 steps per day.

By historical standards this is not as impressive as it may seem. Our forebears would have ranged far and wide each day and even our grandparents were accustomed to finding their way around under their own steam. But modern-day modes of transport mean that few people walk as a means of getting from A to B any longer. We are all used to the convenience of driving and the powerful urge to walk we exhibited as toddlers is ancient history.

However, walking is an effective habit to cultivate because it is an easy way to increase daily activity and keep our metabolism ticking over. Far from tiring us out, a short walk (10 to 15 minutes or more) revs up our energy levels and perks us up, as well as burning a few extra calories.

The wonders of walking

Walking is also an effective fitness activity. The simple act of putting one foot in front of the other is one of the safest and easiest forms of aerobic exercise there is for weight loss and promoting cardiovascular fitness. And because it is also a weight-bearing exercise, it has a valuable toning element, particularly for the muscles in your legs, trunk and core. What’s more, regular fitness walks improve your insulin resistance, reduce stress and help you sleep better.

Plus, it’s a great alternative to running. When you walk, you place up to one-and-a-half times your body weight on your joints, compared to four times or more when you run. This makes walking an excellent option if you have knee and ankle problems. It also maintains healthy joints and strengthens bones. And it has the highest rate of compliance of any kind of exercise method. After all, just about all of us can walk.

Benefits of walking

  • Helps to improve your heart health, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke
  • Helps to improve your circulation, delivering oxygen and nutrients to all your cells
  • Helps to strengthen your bones and joints and may reduce your risk of osteoporosis
  • Helps to boost your immune system
  • Sharpens your focus and nourishes your brain tissue
  • And – burns off calories!

From walk to workout

You can contribute to your general health and wellbeing by increasing the amount of incidental walking you do each day, for example by getting off the bus one stop earlier, walking to the shops to return a DVD or buy milk or taking a quick lap of the park in your lunch hour. Taking every opportunity that comes your way to be upright and on your feet will make you slimmer in the long run.

However, if you want to walk as part of your weight loss program, you have to set aside time as you would any other exercise and focus on your technique. Anna-Louise Bouvier, a leading physiotherapist and posture expert says, “You have to bring your brain along with you to improve the quality and effectiveness of your body’s output as you walk.” By using an efficient walking style – what Anna-Louise refers to as ‘mindful walking’ – you could increase your calorie expenditure without taking one extra step.

Mindful walking entails concentrating on better muscular activation and recruits more muscles than just strolling along in the shopping centre. As your muscles become stronger and more efficient, the aerobic part of your walk becomes easier and you can crank up the pace – which, in turn, burns more calories.

Here are Anna-Louise’s simple clues to a smooth, relaxed but effective walking technique.

  • Feet: Lead with the heel and land purposefully while lifting tall on that hip. This activates the buttock on the striking leg, which then activates the muscles in the trunk. The result? Leaner, firmer thighs and gluteus maximus (that is, your bottom muscles).
  • Hips: Stabilise your hips as you walk, particularly if you have a tendency to sway from side to side. A swing may look sexy but it does nothing for firming your bottom. It might help to imagine walking in a narrow corridor without letting your hips or shoulders touch the sides.
  • Stomach: Imagine a line from your pubic bone to your belly button and zip it up. This activates your core and stabilises your centre.
  • Shoulders: Combat rounded shoulders by lengthening through the neck. Think of wearing a miner’s helmet on your head and keep the ‘light’ beaming straight in front of you. If the light starts to shine on the ground, your stomach turns off and your buttocks do not activate effectively. So lift your light high and walk with a long spine. This instantly makes you look taller and leaner.

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