Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Walk Of Life!

So about 2 years ago when I made the decision to lose weight and get in better shape I weighed my options as to which form of cardio exercise would be most effective to get the job done. I considered running as I truly loved running back in the day. Unfortunately a life of doing heavy squats at the gym (be wary all you Cross Fitters) and walking around at too high a weight combined with my particular physiology left my knees and calves in too much pain to run regularly. Next I considered the machines at the gym (elliptical, treadmill, etc) but honestly I just got bored too easily on those. After talking to my diabetic nurse and reading up on the benefits of daily steps I settled on walking. I started in earnest on a path of at least 10,000 steps a day on March 17th 2013 and haven't stopped since. While it takes a little more time then running or cycling, walking is very low impact, good for the circulation and will certainly burn calories. It's an activity you can do every day as there is not the wear and tear and recovery period of more high impact exercise. All that said there are some tricks of the trade to a successful walking regime. I'll try and summarize as briefly as possible what I've done for the past 2 years and hope this helps you

Get Good Footwear- This is essential. Get a good pair of walking or (as in my case) running shoes. Go to a legit store and ask questions. You want something that works with your particular gait and with the amount of motion control and cushioning you need. These shoes should be uni-taskers used solely for your walking routine and not every day shoes. The better the footwear the less the chances of pain or injury. I would also recommend a good set of insoles (I use SuperFeet) and a waterproof alternative for wet conditions (see next section). I prefer hiking boots for this. Lastly, especially if you're walking on asphalt or concrete, change your shoes frequently. I probably spent on the upside of $400 from 2014 to today on good Asics running shoes as I get a weird wear pattern and when my shoes are done my body tells me and I just replace them. It's money well spent. This is really all you need to get started to for continued success, read on

Dress For Success- Dress practically and for the weather for your daily walks. I start every morning by checking the weather app on my phone and dress accordingly. I have accumulated a bunch of athletic clothing for every weather condition. This way I have no excuses. Some essentials for me are-

  • Under Armour Storm Gear hoodie- Warm without being too heavy and water resistant
  • Compression shorts/leggings for under shorts/pants- helps prevent chaffing, wicks moisture
  • Waterproof shoes and Goretex raincoat.- Rain is not an excuse not to walk
  • Hats, gloves, long underwear- Cold is not an excuse for not walking. Layers is the secret to braving the coldest mornings/days
  • Reflective vest/L.E.D.- For those times you find yourself walking in the dark 
I always prepare myself for whatever condition and often carry a backpack with extra clothing or to stow unneeded clothing as I go

Walk With A Purpose- (OK I stole this term from Mr McMahon of WWE fame) So just getting out there and moving is a great start. However if walking is going to be your choice for cardio you're going to have to do a bit more then meander. This means setting a pace that can raise your heart rate to at least  the "fat burning" zone for a sustained period of time. So how do you know what this pace is to sustain this? Well you can buy a heart rate monitor like I did and you'll know. Or you can use the GPS function on any number of apps to estimate. I've found for my age, weight, etc I try and achieve about 17 minute miles or less. I find the easiest way to achieve the calorie burn you're looking for is have a set distance for exercise and get that in with as few stops or slow downs as possible. If you want to extend the walk and stop along the way of coffee or shopping etc that's all good as it's all gravy after that. I don't have the fastest walking pace nor the slowest but it's consistent for the length of my walk. Anything other then walking at a decent pace you want to do from there like the whole pumping the arms thing or wearing wrist or ankle weights (been there, done that) is all up to you

One Is The Loneliest Number- At the end of the day walking for cardio exercise is a solo endeavor. It just is. If partnering up is the only way you'll do it then fine but otherwise you're better off alone. Think about it- if you are walking to get yourself in better physical shape then you need to go at YOUR pace, not be slowing down or hurrying up to be at another persons pace. This goes double for walking with the dog. From an exercise standpoint the dog ends up walking you more then you the dog. Sorry, running with the dog, maybe, walking with the dog, nope. Now you CAN have your cake and eat it too if you set aside time for your exercise THEN supplement it with a walk with a friend or a canine companion. As I said above, that's all gravy

Find Your Groove- Walking tends to take twice as long as equivalent running or 3 times as long as equivalent biking so find what makes the time most enjoyable. If you prefer the sounds of your environs more power to you. If putting on your headphones and cranking the tunes works, go for it. I've done both of those but I finally settled on audio books. It keeps my mind occupied and while not technically "reading" it allowed me to regain some of the reading time I lost  when I changed the way I ran my life. But really you need to find what works for you

Location, location, location- Living in Cambridge I've learned to love and prefer city walking. I love the sights, the sounds, the scents of an active city. It also allows me to just step out the door and get started. I have 2, 3 and 4 mile loops and in the case of cutting short I can simply turn around or take 3 right hand turns and be back home. I also have a few hikes and a few more scenic walks I enjoy but as they require driving to walk I reserve these for my days off. I also have the huge option of walking to and from work when time allows (4.1 miles each way). Again, find what works for you but also the most excuse free option which in most cases are the ones close to home

OK, so there you have it, my guide to a successful walking routine. I didn't mention hydration at all as you need to know your own body and it's needs. I own hydration packs, hydration belts, reusable bottles etc but I personally only use them if I'm going out in the most extreme temperatures at the height of the day or going somewhere where finding water is not an option. I usually start drinking water as soon as I wake up and start most mornings with a homemade juice so I don't worry much about hydration on an hour and ten minute walk but that's up to you. I think walking is the perfect cardio exercise and no matter what else I get into fitness-wise it will remain my constant until for some reason I'm physically incapable of doing it any longer