The phrase “every little bit counts,” is just as pertinent for exercise as that 10 cent coupon you sheepishly slide across the grocery counter. Most people imagine that calories only burn when using a fancy treadmill, elliptical trainer or running on a track. The truth is, something as simple as walking wakes up your heart, burns calories and may help you achieve your fitness or weight loss goals.
Walking, even little bouts between commercials or from your couch to the fridge (for an ice cold glass of water of course!), is good for you, and like another favorite saying goes “it all adds up.” If you would like to lose weight, burn more calories or simply make your life more active, a great place to begin (especially for those who are not yet ready for intense workouts) is with a walking goal. The first thing you need is a pair of comfortable walking shoes followed by an important piece of equipment called a pedometer.
If all you techno-phobes or penny pinchers are already backing away at the idea of an expensive new-fangled machine, have no worries. Pedometers are extremely easy to use and very very cheap. My pedometer cost me less than five dollars and only has three buttons. So what does a pedometer do? Its main job is to count the number of steps you take during a given period like a day or week. Almost all pedometers, even my cheap one, also measure the distance you walk. More expensive ones, and we’re only talking five or 10 extra dollars, can measure calories burned and differentiate between jogging, aerobic walking and normal walking. Most pedometers are small and square, smaller than a matchbook. They clip unobtrusively to the waistband of your pant and are easily hidden by a shirt or belt. Some of the newer models are programmed into wristwatches. As you walk, the machine reads your body’s movement and counts your steps. While the more advanced pedometers offer extra goodies and won’t empty your wallet, the cheap ones are just as usable.
The job of a pedometer is to do all the calculating for you. After you program in the length of your strides, all you have to do is start walking. To figure out the length of your strides, usually the instructions will suggest taking ten steps, measuring that distance and dividing by ten. Most steps are between 20 and 30 inches long. Once this number is programmed into the pedometer, the machine can calculate the distance you walk each day. If you want to know how far you walk each week, just let the machine keep calculating. Press ‘reset’ each morning to delete the measures from the previous day and begin a new sheet. All pedometers display a screen with your current step count, distance, or (in the more advanced models) calories burned.
Now, with your pedometer firmly clipped in place, you can begin your walking routine. You’ll be amazed at how that little machine will nag you to get up and move. To begin, it is a good idea to continue your life as normal for several consecutive days to figure out how much you walk on average. You may be surprised. Some people walk less than a mile throughout their entire day. Use this number as a starting point to make a short and long-term goal. A good long-term goal might be 10,000 steps a day or even 5 miles. If this seems too far, cut it down, but remember, this is your ultimate goal, not what you want to do tomorrow. Start with modest increases. See if you can add 1,000 more steps to your average. The great thing about a pedometer is it doesn’t only count exercise; it counts all your steps no matter what you’re doing. Once you have a goal in mind, you’ll begin to spot opportunities to add to your step count. Watching TV? See if you can walk 50 steps between each commercial break. Have to make a dreadful phone call to your mother-in-law? Walk around your living room as you speak and consider it getting something good out of a bad situation. That something good is your health! You’ll find that your pedometer is a great motivator. You’ll begin to find excuses to walk more. You may even begin parking at the back of the parking lot, taking the stairs instead of the elevator or skipping all the shortcuts you usually take.
As you slowly increase your walking goal, you’ll also be making your life more active. Even small bouts of walking between commercial breaks or while on the phone will elevate your heart rate. Think of it as a gentle nudge. It is important, however, to understand that walking is considered low to moderate exercise. It shouldn’t be mistaken as an entire workout unto itself unless the walking is sustained at a brisk pace for at least a half-hour. Your new walking goal should be an addition to your exercise plan not substituted for one. The best fitness routine contains strength training, aerobics and a healthy and diverse diet. Your walking goal should be a continuation of this process, something to give you that added boost between workouts. If you manage to increase your walking but then use it as an excuse to skip the gym and splurge on the desert, you are negating all the benefits you gained by walking.
Walking does offer many great benefits especially to those who, for various reasons, may not be able to partake in a full exercise routine. Walking is easy and relaxing. If you think your life is too busy to take even a ten-minute stroll around neighborhood, then you need to walk more than every. Consider it a treat (rather than the ice-cream in the freezer.) You deserve a relaxing break from your day. Take nice long strides, feel your heart begin to pump and observe the world around you: the trees, the wind playing in your hair, and the sounds of the day. Walking can fight stress as much as fat.
So, if you would like to increase your health, lose some weight and combat stress try walking. It’s easy, fun and free. Buy a pedometer, lace up your shoes and discover how walking can make your healthier and happier. Good luck!