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Walking for Fitness (cont.)

Walking for Weight Loss

The first step in losing weight may not be starting another fad diet. It may be walking without changing a thing you eat.

With dieting, the focus is too often on the input side. People worry about calories in. They forget about the other side of that equation: calories out. Burning calories by boosting your metabolism through activity, not pills or diet promises, may be a far more successful way to lose weight.

Walking helps you shift your attitude toward health, fitness, and weight loss. Change doesn't happen overnight -- nor did gaining those extra pounds. Take a year to move through these three steps (at least 16 weeks for each step) to make gradual but positive lifestyle changes.

  • Step 1: Just get out there and walk a little. Build a daily habit. Let's call it being active. Don't think about changing clothes, going to a gym, or jumping around for an hour.
    • Just take a short walk to the bus stop, the corner mailbox, or the convenience store for a gallon of milk. Find ways to add an extra 2,000 steps into your daily routine.
    • Buy and wear a pedometer to measure your steps. A 20-minute walk is about 120 steps per minute, or 2,400 steps. You can break that up into three walks of 800 steps each.
    • How far you walk or how fast you walk aren't important. It's simply walking in short spurts most days of the week. Be careful. Once you start paying attention to walking, you'll want to walk farther.
    • Add a simple four-minute stretch routine a few days a week after your walk to maintain your natural range of motion. Just stand up, even if you're at work fully dressed in work clothes. Put one leg back, bend the front knee, and lean forward to stretch the calf muscle. For thighs, grab your ankle from behind, keep your knees close together. Lean forward to stretch your lower back.
    • Eventually add a simple two-minute warm-up before you walk: Hold on to a railing for balance and circle your ankle, one leg at a time. Then swing each leg, forward and back. Put your hands on your hips for a circular trunk rotation. This gets the blood flowing and leaves your muscles less prone to injury.
    • Goal: You'll realize you don't have to hurt to feel better. After a walk, you'll feel invigorated and happy.
  • Step 2: Walk longer, build strength. Start increasing your walking distance, and you'll begin to see weight loss. During this second phase, increasing distance means increasing time to 45-60 minutes two days a week.
    • You can cover serious distance in an hour of walking and walk even longer on weekends. Build up to a half-day or day-long hike. This increase in duration increases weight loss, burns more calories, and builds strength as you get off the beaten path and hike up and down hills on a challenging course.
    • Hike 2 miles somewhere and back at a brisk pace. Ask at any outdoor shop about the best places to hike, such as conservation land, state parks, a waterfront, or rail trail. Go for a full-day trek through a bird sanctuary, take a picnic to a waterfall, or go on an organized hike with a group.
    • When the weather outside is frightful, many people turn to treadmills. Admittedly, treadmills are boring. Spice up a complete treadmill workout by using elevation to give the sense of a trail. You don't have to follow the preprogrammed courses. Create your own interval training with hills. Make it a mental game. Life isn't automated and your treadmill workout shouldn't be either. Ascend and descend by varying your elevations and speeds.
    • Pick five of your favorite CDs for your portable Walkman -- classical, country, rock and roll, even rap. Hit random play, and whatever song comes up, go that tempo. Start and end with an easy one. Put a fan in front of the treadmill to create natural cooling from the wind you'd normally get on a trail.
    • Keep an activity log. Noting your daily activity is a great motivator, especially when you see those miles start to build up. Tally your daily, weekly, and monthly totals. You'll hate to write down "0" for any day.
    • Goal: Walk vigorously for a longer period of time twice a week. If you don't see dramatic weight loss, it may be because you are building muscle.
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