A New Way To Take A Walk: People Are Really Stepping It Up For Fitness

walk.jpgDo you enjoy taking a nice stroll around your neighborhood? Then you’re lucky—you’re halfway home on a new exercise trend that has proven to be more effective than high-intensity interval training.

You will need to change your routine somewhat, but Japanese researchers report that test subjects who took up a walking program that alternated five or more sets of fast and slow walking (3 minutes each) had a 70% success rate in sticking to the program over a 20 month period. Not to mention remarkable improvements in healthy fitness levels.

Can you walk fast for 3 minutes, knowing that you will then relax and walk at a normal pace for the next three? Sure you can. 

During this past week I tried it, and the only problem was my early arrival at my destination: a coffee house where I read the morning paper. It used to take me about 20 minutes to get there, and the same for the return trip. Now if I do five “sets” of 3 minutes fast/3 minutes slower, you do the math: I need to be 30 minutes away from my destination. But now, with some faster walking thrown in, I’m arriving in under 15.

To achieve my full 30 minutes of fast/slow/fast/slow etc., I’ve begun zigzagging randomly through the neighborhood, and this has its benefits: I’ve seen some interesting new houses, and I’ve said “Good morning!” to dozens of walkers I seldom see—and some I've never met...until now. Which, of course, leads me to muse a bit about walking in general...

A good walk binds you to your neighborhood. If you do it once you notice things you’ve never seen before. If you do it regularly, you move from familiar point to familiar point, like going back over favorite pages in a book. You develop something else: relationships with others like yourself who aren’t in their cars.

A good walk stretches out the back of your legs on a steep hill (if you’re lucky enough to walk one, and I do), and lets you reconnect to the ground, the bird calls, the scent of dewy chaparral.  It makes your nose and ears cold, yet raises enough heat that you take off a layer or two of clothing even on a day when your breath chuffs white. It offers the understanding and promise of weather—what the rest of the day may bring to your bowl of sky, tempered by the unknown of an atmosphere that hasn’t yet been roiled by warm air rising off dark fields and roads, or the moving blanket of breezes that shuffle in and out throughout the day.

If you begin walking when you’re upset, you won’t remember what caused it by the time you return home. Every walker knows this is true, because walking creates observation, distraction, and a sense of accomplishment whether you want it to or not. You don’t need a fitness trainer, guru or mystagogue to be initiated into this rite. You learned its rewards at 12 months or so when your first steps were greeted with your parents’ hosannas:

“Her/his first steps! Did you get that on video?” 

Walking encourages curiosity. (“Whose woods these are I think I know...”) You wonder why a neighbor is tearing down a fence. Whose dog is this that ambles over to greet you, tail wagging, head needing a scratch? What kind of bird just flashed yellow in the sycamore trees?

If you walk with someone you love, you have the opportunity to talk, but also the comfort of remaining silent. After all, you’re doing something together, and that may be enough for a day—and frankly, you'll experience more togetherness than many couples achieve at all.

And now there’s another reason to walk. You always knew it was good for you, but most of us assumed the benefits to heart, lungs, and keeping your belt cinched tight on its proper diameter were very mild indeed. Now I “burst” into a very brisk walk about 5 times—only 15 minutes in all—and know that it makes a big difference, and that I’ll probably stick to it. "Give me three!" says my inner coach.   

Of course I can, I think. And along the way, I still appreciate the journey much more than the exercise. As always, I feel how much I belong to this place and this time on this planet, and how grateful I am for the sturdy heartbeat in my chest that sets the rhythm of a new day.

Sources:

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