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Don’t Wimp on Your Walks

by Nicole Dorsey Straff

My schedule is tight these days, and I know yours is too. I need exercise to be efficient and effective. When I can jet out for a 30- to 40-minute power walk in the middle of my workday, I am grateful for the heart-pumping exercise that not only strengthens the heart and muscles, but also tones the whole lower-body. Exercisers chronically underestimate how fast or how far they can walk, says fitness expert Petra Kolber, creator of two dozen best-selling fitness videos. (She’s also a great fitness friend of mine.)

The safest, most portable and pleasant of all exercise endeavors—just 40 to 50 minutes of moderate striding (quick enough for your panting heart rate pace)—improves your posture, helps you de-stress and works towards maintaining a leaner body weight, says Kolber. Aim for walking or other equivalent cross-training exercises 4 to 6 days per week. The American College of Sports Exercise says the great news about walking is that you have so many options:

1. Perform 20 minutes of vigorous exercise—3 times/week

(e.g. Run-walking or elliptical training.) You are hopefully walking and/or training with other activities at higher intensities (other activities may include stair-climbing, rowing or swimming).

2.  Perform 20 minutes of Nordic walking—1 to 2 times/week

Walk with upper-body movements using light, weighted waking poles. Much more common in northern Europe, walking with poles (across all different types of terrain) improves caloric expenditure by about 25 percent, and you firm up your shoulder muscles.

3. Perform 30 to 50 minutes of slower walking—5 times/week

Maintain a brisk pace of 4 miles per hour or so, and always warm up and cool down. “More walking is always better, but most walkers take to the treadmill or the track without any instruction at all. Correct form is not necessarily second nature, and running isn’t simply stepped-up walking.” If you need to bust workout boredom, you might try swimming, stationary cycling or elliptical training.

After every power walk, do 10 minutes of your favorite abdominal crunches and a series of yoga stretches because walking does not zero in on those muscle groups, says Kolber.  “The best, most balanced workout is a cardio pumping walk followed by yoga postures and meditation.”

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