An Inexpensive Exercise Program Anyone Can Stick With
- 2000 12 Dec
Susan M. Shannon Davies is a regular contributor to No-Debt Living, which provides financial, consumer, college and time-management news with a Christian perspective.
If you're looking for an easy, inexpensive way to exercise in 2001, walking is an excellent choice. Unlike running, tennis, biking or skiing, it can be done by almost anyone. And the only investment you need to make is a good pair of tennis shoes. There are no monthly health club fees, no equipment maintenance, and no lift tickets. You can do it with a friend, in a group or by yourself. (Most cities have mall walking clubs if you are interested in adding a social dimension.)
"Briskly walking one mile in 15 minutes burns just about the same number of calories as jogging an equal distance in eight minutes," according to a 1995 report by Health Responsibility Systems, Inc.
As with any exercise, you should consult your doctor if you have any complicating health conditions. Otherwise, you can start right now - or at least after you are finished reading this article.
"Walking is one of the top conditioners," says Dr. Kevin Berry, a fitness consultant and naturopathic doctor. "We were designed and built to walk. We are engineered to get tremendous benefit from this activity. One of the chief advantages is that its motion helps keep the hips and spine limber and increases the flow of blood through these areas. It also increases the spinal fluid up and down the spine and in the brain. From here, nerves that help operate the entire body are soothed and nourished. Activities that do not require walking are not as effective in this regard."
Most of the time, people view exercise programs as one more thing to cram into their already busy schedules. Consequently, these programs tend to have as much longevity as diets.
Maybe we should rethink the no pain, no gain philosophy. What if we threw away quotas for minutes and days per week? What if we didn't hold ourselves to a strict routine? What if we enjoyed our exercise and integrated it into our daily activities?
Here are some suggestions:
- Combine walking with prayer time.
- Encourage your spouse to join you, giving you a time to communicate and grow together.
- Walk as a form of transportation (to work, to the store) whenever possible.
- Use the stairs instead of elevators.
- Walk on your lunch break.
- Park farther away from your job and walk part way.
- Walk around the mall a few times when weather is bad.
- Take the whole family for a walk around the neighborhood, when weather permits.
Walking is one of the easiest exercises to integrate into the normal, daily routine.
Depending on how far you are planning to walk at a given time, stretching your muscles is usually a good idea. Remember all those exercises from your elementary physical education class? Those are the kinds of stretches to do - leg stretches, toe touches or potato pickers, arm circles, ankle circles and sit-ups. Do them gently and slowly to ease your body into a more active mode. Although walking rarely results in injury, easy warmup exercises help reduce the risk.
And when you begin walking for exercise, start with short distances and gradually increase them. You are not competing against anyone, so set your own pace and schedule. Even the President's Council on Physical Fitness is recommending a more moderate approach to exercise. Do what you can do, not what you think you should do.
Let 'em hang
Don't pump your arms as you walk. Deena and David Balboa, authors of Walking for Life have this advice: "Let your arms hang naturally with a slight bend at the elbow. The elbow should be held securely but not locked in that position."
Your legs should be the ones setting the pace, not your arms.
Weights generally are not recommended for use in walking. The weights tend to throw off the natural balance between your arms and legs. Plus, if you get tired, there is no place to put them down. There are better ways to build stamina in the arms.
Your feet should point straight ahead as you walk. The Balboas recommend a gliding motion for your legs: "Imagine that you have on a pair of roller skates or ice skates."
Your stride should feel comfortable, not forced.
Not too much support
Since your shoes are the only equipment you will need, take time to try on several different styles. Lon Seiger and James Hesson, authors of Walking for Health, say "be wary of the salesperson who tells you an uncomfortable pair of walking shoes will feel fine after you break them in." Comfort is the name of the game.
Dr. Berry recommends shoes that are "comfortable like soft earth to walk on. Concrete is man-made and our feet are designed for uneven, soft terrain like grass and dirt.
"Undesirable shoes have full arch support which causes the arch muscles in the feet to atrophy from disuse. Good shoes should never fully support your arch unless you have special needs. Our feet depend on the built?in arches. Also, choose shoes that allow your feet to breathe."
Walking barefoot whenever possible is also a good idea according to Dr. Berry. He recommends taking your shoes off and walking barefoot at least when you are home. This "gives the natural mechanics of your feet the opportunity to work as they were designed to work. It also strengthens those muscles that otherwise aren't used much or at all in shoes."
Treadmills are a good alternative for wintry, slippery days or for those who don't feel safe walking at night.
If you really want to carry weights while you walk, using a treadmill might be better since you can set them down as soon as you get tired of holding them.
But don't overuse the treadmill. You will miss out on fresh air, scenery and waving to people.
New treadmills are quite expensive, but you may be able to find a used, basic model in the newspaper for $100?$300. Some sporting goods stores also sell used treadmills - both residential and commercial grade. Used commercial?grade treadmills tend to cost more than $1,000.
The advantage of buying from a store is that they can test it out and fix anything that might be broken. You also might be able to negotiate a 30 to 60 day warranty. However, the price may be a bit higher.
In either case, test the equipment out before buying it.
Susan M. Shannon Davies is a freelance writer from Boise, Idaho, who resumed a walking exercise routine while writing this article. For more money-saving ideas visit No-Debt Living, www.nodebtnews.com, where you can view more than 100 valuable articles and resources on financial, consumer, college and time-management news with a Christian perspective. Copyright 2000 No-Debt Living. Reprinted with permission from No-Debt Living.
For more ideas on improving your health in 2001, visit the Crosswalk.com Health Channel.