For those who haven't exercised regularly in years, certain exercise programs require more than they can wrap their minds or their physical ability around. A walking program can be an easy way to get back moving. Walking is, in fact, America’s most popular exercise. And if the intention is to keep your weight in check, research shows you’d better pick up the pace. Brisk walking continues to receive accolades for its health benefits as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, “brisk walking has been shown to reduce body fat, lower blood pressure, and reduce risks of bone fracture.” A Mayo Clinic professor, Michael Joyner, MD says, “I personally think that brisk walking is far and away the single best exercise.”What’s Brisk?
A study by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health found brisk walking was associated with preventing weight gain and maintaining weight loss whereas slow walking was not. The difference between the two lies with you. While the CDC reports brisk walking to be ≥ 3.5 mph, your level of exertion determines if brisk walking is the moderate intensity activity it is intended to be. Ideally a brisk walk means you are between 50 and 70% of your maximum heart rate (MHR). If you don’t know your MHR, use the talk test: you should be breathing harder than usual and be able to speak in long sentences, but not able to sing. Brisk walking isn’t just a faster leisurely walk; it requires proper posture and total body effort, complete with relaxed shoulders, eyes looking forward, and hands relaxed. As one arm moves forward, the other moves back, while alternating with each step.
How much is enough?
The CDC recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week and two or more days of muscle strengthening activities. So if you’re just starting out, brisk walking can have far-reaching benefits for your overall health. A review of a number of studies by Timothy Church, MD showed that, in general, a sedentary person’s risk of dying prematurely fell by almost 20% if they began brisk walking for 30 minutes five times a week. Another study by the CDC found diabetics who engaged in brisk walking three to four hours a week, reduced their risk of dying from any cause by 54%. On the weight loss tip, the amount of brisk walking you need hinges on how many calories you want to burn. Generally speaking, brisk walking doesn’t burn a lot of calories in comparison to other more vigorous exercise. For example, a 150-lb person would only burn approximately 258 calories per hour walking at 3.5 mph. But don’t dismay, if you are sedentary, it is literally a great first step to exercising regularly.
Brisk walking also improves endurance, which can prepare you for more intense activity down the road. Hiroshi Nose, MD, PhD, a professor of sports medical sciences at Shinshu University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan, enrolled thousands of older Japanese citizens in an innovative, five-month-long program of brisk, interval-style walking. The program incorporated three minutes of fast walking, then three minutes of slower walking, repeated ten times. Dr. Nose reports, “Physical fitness — maximal aerobic power and thigh muscle strength — increased by about 20%, which is sure to make you feel about 10 years younger than before training.” What’s more, symptoms of chronic diseases including hypertension, hyperglycemia, and obesity also decreased by about 20% after the study.
To get started try this 12-week walking program from the Harvard Medical School.