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Walking may not seem like much of a workout, but it's actually a very effective form of light cardio exercise for people of all fitness levels. Added benefits are that it doesn't require equipment, it may be done anywhere and it works well whether you do it solo or with a group. When you get bored with the basics, challenge yourself to pump up your speed, incorporate strength training or include variations on the activity.
According to Mayo Clinic physicians, walking regularly can help lower blood pressure and harmful LDL cholesterol, raise beneficial HDL cholesterol, reduce the risk of diabetes and encourage weight maintenance. Rodale reports that walking can also reduce fibromyalgia pain, reduce the risk of stroke and improve the chance of recovery after a breast cancer diagnosis. Walking has mental benefits, too. вЂњArthritis TodayвЂќ notes that regular walks slow mental decline, lower the risk of Alzheimer's, improve sleep quality and boost your mood.
Regular walking is a healthy form of light aerobic exercise, but it doesn't incorporate much strength training. If you want to tone your arms and upper body at the same time you walk, swing your arms with each step or pick up a pair of walking poles. Though you will burn more calories if you carry light hand weights while you walk, many fitness experts discourage this practice. вЂњBy using hand weights, you risk causing injury to your shoulders or the muscles of the upper chest,вЂќ says Mark Fenton, a former member of the United States racewalking team and host of the PBS series вЂњAmerica's Walking.вЂќ If you do use weights, the American Council on Exercise cautions against holding anything heavier than three pounds in each hand.
When you get bored of traditional walking, mix it up! If you walk in place at home or on a treadmill, stop every few minutes to add in kicks, hamstring curls or squats, all of which can help tone the legs and midsection. To burn more calories and pick up the pace, alternate walking with jogging or even sprinting in an interval workout. You can also try lunge walking, which is a combination strength and cardio move. Take one giant step forward and lower slowly into a lunge, making sure your knee doesn't go over your toes. Slowly straighten up and step the other foot forward to go into another lunge. Repeat.
Most people can safely take walks for exercise, but check with your doctor first if you have a medical condition, have been inactive for a long time or are very overweight. It's important to stay hydrated during any aerobic exercise, so take water with you if you plan to walk outside, especially if it's hot or humid. When beginning to walk, Martina Navratilova suggests in an article for AARP to stroll for 20 minutes three times per week. In the following weeks, increase the time to 30 minutes per walk and add extra sessions, trying to reach a goal of five 45-minute walks per week.