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Fitness Walking!
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By Nawaz Modi Singhania  

Cher once said about fitness, "If it came in a bottle, everybody would have a good body!" And that's just the problem; it doesn't!

The list of benefits of exercise is long & winding. How can we best achieve the same, given the pressures of all that goes with city life- time, monetary restraints, priorities, and more?

Many invest in some sort of home exercise equipment. Ask any fitness professional what the single -most effective piece of equipment for overall health, fitness & a complete body workout is, & most of them will tell you that it is the treadmill.

Research results could hardly be any clearer. Walking is unarguably one of the best ways to take charge of your health.

It firms up the whole body, focussing on the lower body. It's an excellent way to burn stored fat. It helps to build up on bone density, fighting diseases such as cancer, asthma, bronchitis, arthritis, atherosclerosis & osteoporosis. It produces great results on the cardiovascular system.

So, don't let the chance to walk, walk right past you! Recent studies show that walking briskly for half an hour just six times a month cut the risk of premature death in men and women by 44 percent. Reports demonstrate that men from 61 to 81 years of age sharply reduced their risk of death from all causes, including cancer and heart disease, by walking two miles a day. Other research results have shown similar results for women.

The best part of walking is that you can go at your own pace. It's a great low-impact workout. If you are a novice to exercise, or recovering from injury or childbirth, begin slowly with 20 minutes at a time, two to three times a week. As you get fitter & more proficient at this, build it up gradually to fifty minutes or an hour, five to six days a week, at the good fitness walking speed of three miles an hour. Basically put, you have to walk fast enough & long enough to make it work.

Warm up & Cool down.

Like all other forms of exercise, fitness walking requires a proper warm up & cool down. These play vitally important roles in injury prevention.

Start & finish by strolling for about 7- 10 minutes & then do a few gentle stretches. Your muscles will stretch better if you've warmed them up first. The major muscle groups of the lower limbs must be stretched out well. The quads (front of the thigh), inner & outer thighs, hamstrings & calves also ideally need to be stretched out. Try & get a couple of back stretches in too. Ask a fitness professional which stretches are best for you.

Stay well hydrated.

Drink plenty of water before, during & after your workout, especially on hot days. The more you sweat, the more water you need to keep putting back into the system so that you don't dehydrate. This way you can regulate your body temperature, & continue burning fat. If you overheat on the other hand, like an over-heated car, you'll just pack up! Heat cramps, heat exhaustion & heat strokes can be a serious health concern, if you don't take charge of regulating your internal temperature through proper hydration.

Avoid gulping water during the workout; sip it instead. By doing this, you will avoid muscle cramps & stitches.

Be Light

Make sure you don't go for a walk on a full stomach. Ideally, don't eat for about 2 hours before your walk. If you're very hungry before you go, have a light carbohydrate snack (like a sandwich or a slice of toast) which will get digested quickly & provide energy.

Take Small & Fast Steps.

By taking small, fast steps, rather than long strides, you will work your gluteal muscles (in your buttocks) as you log those miles.

Pace Yourself.

Don't bite off more than you can chew!

Begin slowly. A gradual increase in both intensity & duration will ensure long-term success. This will also greatly reduce the risk of injury.

The Right Terrain.

The best surfaces for walking are those which are designed for shock absorption. Running tracks, grass & dirt are ideal. Concrete is harder on the joints & muscles & is therefore avoidable.

Try to include hills on your walks. This will increase your workload, & the calories you burn. Keep your knees bent in order to reduce stress to the knee joint, & prevent injury.

Do It Right!

Push off from your heel, roll through the ball of the foot, then push through the big toe. Think of the big toe as the a "go" button and push off with zest. Keep the other toes relaxed.

Squeeze Your Gluteals.

Imagine squeezing and lifting your gluteals up and back. This will strengthen & tone both your glutes, & your low-back muscles. Developing the ability to maintain this deep contraction throughout your walk will take some patience & practice.

Zip It Up.

During your walk, imagine you're zipping up a tight pair of well-fitted jeans. Stand tall and put your abdominal muscles up and in. You can practice this even when you're not walking. This contributes towards tighter, firmer abs, a healthy back, & better posture.

Use Your Upper Body.

Use your arms as you normally do when walking, that is arms swinging in opposition to the legs, but try to exaggerate this swing when fitness walking.

Let the arms rise up to shoulder level, or even higher. As you progress, move at a faster face or use light hand weights (1- 3 lbs, but no more), while using a bent-arm swing. As the speed of your walk increases, it will no longer be comfortable to swing straight arms fast enough to keep up with the increased frequency of the strides. Stand tall, relax your shoulders, squeeze your shoulder blades behind you, one into the other, and push back your elbows with each step. Keep your arm movements smooth and strong.

Keep your Chest Up, Shoulders Back.

Practice perfect posture. Stand straight; don't slump over. Imagine someone emptied a pail of ice down your shirt. That should do it!

Chin Up!

Look up to see about ten to twelve feet ahead of you. This will keep your neck correctly aligned.

Weights.

Weights are optional, not essential. They will help increase the intensity of your walk, & will tone & condition the upper body.

While walking with weights is great, one has to be aware of the possibility that one may tend to adjust the pace by slowing down to compensate for the extra weight. In that case, you might be better off without weights.

When using weights, use a bent-arm swing & keep the arms close to the upper torso. A straight-arm swing will not be appropriate.

The Right Gear.

Get yourself a good pair of walking shoes. They should have a lower profile than running shoes, but must yet have adequate cushioning & shock-absorbing features. There should be ample room for the ball of the foot & the toes to spread out.

Make sure your clothing is comfortable so as not to restrict your movements. Cotton is the preferred fabric over synthetics such as nylon, lycra or spandex, as cottons allow the skin to breathe. Synthetics don't. This means that you're unable to dispense of the build-up of body heat, which is a natural by-product of exercise. Besides the other hazards of over-heating, this makes it very hard to continue exercising.

Practice Mental Fitness.

Don't replay the problems of the day while you walk. Try to maintain a state of relaxed awareness by paying attention to your breathing and noticing how your body feels. Visualize yourself getting healthier, stronger and leaner.

Have Fun!

Enjoy your walks. Don't mentally replay your problems of the day. Take a friend or partner along, or take your walkman & favourite music selection along. If you're walking outdoors, change your route to avoid monotony.

"Stick-to-it-tiveness"

Consistency & commitment is going to be the most important part of your walking regimen. Fitness walking is about as hassle-free as any routine can be. Remember that short walks are better than none at all. Remember, that health, like life, is a journey. All you have to do is take the first step.

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