by Mira Rasmussen BS, ACSM-HFS
Walking creates a natural connection between our thoughts and well-being. This type of mental-physical sync isn’t replicated so easily by running on a treadmill, cycling, or during any other type of movement.
Light to moderate exertion enables our thoughts to run more creatively since oxygen flows readily to the brain. This type of exercise boosts chemicals in our brain such as endorphins that reduce pain and serotonin, which enhances mood. Generation of brain cells is also stimulated supporting memory, learning and protection against cognitive decline. A walk can provide just the right intensity to improve blood pressure and cholesterol among other benefits. We usually respond to this form of lower-impact exercise with less achy joints and muscle pain, allowing longer adherence exercise. Heart rate zones associated with walking can train your body to be efficient at burning fat, especially compared to high-intensity exercises.
Your weight-loss and get healthy objective is simple: walk before you run. Start a walking program you can ease into; use handy feedback devices like activity monitors to keep motivated and structure your routine to stay consistent.
Our bodies have a remarkable way of adapting to whatever stimuli we give them. Not only do we adapt, but we become very efficient at producing results. So, if the stress we expose our bodies to is sitting on the couch and watching TV, we become very efficient at storing fat and losing muscle. But, if we stand up and move, even for small bits at a time, we adapt and become a stronger, healthier version than we were before. This is how to literally take the first few steps into health. Start small, adapt, and when you are ready move to the next level and do it again.
Time, however, isn’t the only factor. Exercise intensity will either help you achieve your goal or lead you further from it. But instead of guesstimating a walking pace or continuously extending your exercise duration, use the science behind exercise to determine the intensity that will use more fat for fuel or the intensity that will increase your cardiovascular health by knowing your individual heart rate zones.
Heart rate zones can be utilized either by knowing your maximal heart rate or by doing a VO2max exercise assessment. Your maximal heart rate number (in beats per minute) is a specific number to you and cannot change. This number identifies how fast your heart can beat in one minute and not one beat faster. Knowing this number allows you to identify work-out zones that match your specific goals. For example:
It’s best to determine your maximal heart rate with a qualified exercise professional. Sub-maximal testing isn’t quite as accurate as testing with an exercise professional, but it’s a good place to start. One such sub-maximal test is called the “talk test” which is to exercise until you feel talking is slightly uncomfortable and then add 30-40 bpm to the number. This will give you a rough estimate of your maximal heart rate. The old method commonly found in gyms of (220 – Age = Max Heart Rate) formula was developed for males under the age of 55 and was not meant for use by the entire population. Furthermore, if you’re using this method, you could be exercising in zones that are way too high or low for your health and fitness goals. As you know from the zone definitions in this article, working out in zones too high can be dangerous while working out in zones too low make goals difficult to accomplish. Charts and formulas set aside, the safest and most recommended method to determine your exercise zones is through a metabolic test called VO2max testing.
Starting a walking program has never been easier than with today’s popular activity monitors and their ability to track things like:
But the best activity tracker is the one that doubles as a heart rate monitor, truly tracking the intensity of your movements and exercise versus steps alone. I also recommend an activity monitor that tracks your hourly progress via a detailed screen instead of LEDs. Knowing your status gives you the advantage of changing your activity outcome throughout the day instead of realizing too late that you can’t meet your goal. These little feedback devices can make your daily dose of exercise seem manageable since it tracks all of your activity. Those five-minute walks at lunch, taking the scenic route to your car, or pacing while talking on the phone add up to the amount of activity that will help you be and feel healthy. This can be just the right amount of encouragement on a low-energy day. I highly recommend taking a closer look at activity monitors and finding one—preferably with a heart rate monitor—that works best for you.
Now that you understand heart rate zones and have set your fitness goals accordingly, it’s time to make a walking structure that you can stick with. A few things to consider are:
Conditioning yourself into a healthy lifestyle is as simple as stepping into it, little bits at a time, throughout the day. Understanding exercise intensity and heart-rate zones provides you the confidence knowing that the time you spend exercising is achieving a specific goal. Feedback devices like activity monitors are a fun, motivating way to track your exercise and challenge your steps. Success is best achieved managing your goals by measuring and monitoring progress. Lastly, taking note of your environment—what, or who inspires you—and balancing your workout schedule with your daily demand will take your walking program and your health to the next level.
About the Author:
An exercise physiologist and health professional for the last eight years and soon-to-be owner of a specialized personal training and wellness studio in Georgetown, Texas, Mira Rasmussen BS, ACSM-HFS, is passionate about personalizing the path to wellness and being a guide through that life-changing process. She has worked with all populations and has utilized her psycho-physiological skills in eating disorder recovery, addiction, corporate wellness, personal training and nutrition. Mira has worked side-by-side with renowned dietitians, doctors and psycho-therapists using physical fitness as a vital tool for clients to reach and sustain a well-balanced life.
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