Walking is the best medicine (Part III) – First steps
Part of the magic of walking is that there are no rules! It is true that the Department of Health and Human Services recommends these exercise guidelines: 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity. You can also do a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. But this is what you should aim for, not necessarily what you should do on day 1 of your exercise program. Any exercise is better than no exercise.
There are many ways to exercise. Playing golf is good exercise but there are many rules and you have to play 9 or 18 holes, nobody does 5 or 11 holes of golf. Tennis is good exercise but you have to have a tennis court. Walking is easy, just open the door and take the first step. No special equipment is needed and no special training is required. Just start slowly and build up gradually. The number of miles you walked and the time it took is not a matter of immediate concern; we’ll get to that later. I once had a patient who I had to walk 40 feet to his own mailbox and vice versa. I asked her to do this 3 times a day for a week before I could do more without pain. Most people will be able to do much more than that, but remember that the goal is to burn off stress hormones. If you try to do more than you are physically capable of, in other words, if you stress yourself, you will actually create stress hormones and defeat the entire purpose.
If you are a beginner hiker, just let yourself be guided by how you feel. If you are in pain or cannot catch your breath, you are doing too much. It’s okay to feel mild muscle pain or stiffness after an unusual activity, but the no-pain / no-gain cliche we’ve all heard so often only applies to competitive athletes. Most people can tell the difference between normal muscle pain and real pain. For the beginner, decide what a reasonable distance is for you and walk only half that distance. Remember that you can always do more tomorrow, but you cannot undo yesterday. Keep in mind that no matter how far you intend to walk, you still have to go back.
Target heart rate
As you gain experience as a walker, there is an easy way to know if you are approaching the Department of Health and Human Services exercise guidelines: Calculate your target heart rate. An average resting heart rate is 60 to 80 beats per minute, but it may be lower for people in exceptional shape. Your target heart rate, which indicates true aerobic exercise, is approximately 220 minus your age multiplied by 50% to 85%. So for example, if you were 60, 220 minus 60 equals 160. For the first few weeks of walking, aim for the lowest part of your target zone (50 percent) or 50% of 160 equals 80. beats per minute. Then gradually increase to the highest part of the target zone (85 percent) or 85% of 160 equals 136 beats per minute. When you check it out, and if your heart rate is too high, you are exerting yourself much slower. If you’re below the zone, push yourself to work a little harder if you can without causing pain in your back, hips, knees, or feet.
How to check your heart rate
• Take your pulse on the inside of your wrist, approximately 1 inch from the center towards the side of the thumb and approximately 2 inches towards the elbow from where your wrist meets your arm.
• Use the tips of the first two fingers (not the thumb) of your other hand to press lightly into the groove between your wrist tendons. You are feeling the hidden artery between the tendons, not the veins on the surface that you can see.
• Count your pulse for 10 seconds and multiply it by 6 to find your beats per minute.
After you have done this several times, it will no longer be necessary. You can tell by how you feel and how you breathe. This is called a “talking pace” to monitor your efforts during moderate activities like walking. If you can talk and walk at the same time, you are not working too hard. If you are out of breath quickly, you are probably working too hard, especially if you have to stop and catch your breath.
Determine how fast you are walking
First, understand that no matter how fast you walk, the point is to burn stress hormones to improve your health. Stress hormones are burned with aerobic exercise, and aerobic exercise is accomplished when your heart rate reaches the target zone as described above. As you get fitter, you will naturally have to go faster and faster to reach the target zone. However, if you’re curious, the math has already been done for you. The easiest way to measure your speed without wearing a pedometer, or without getting into your car and measuring mileage, which can be quite difficult unless you are walking down a street, is to count the number of steps per minute. Experts use this number to calculate pace, based on an average stride length of 2 1/2 feet. (Stride length is the distance from the heel of one foot to the heel of the other foot when you take a step.)
• 70 steps per minute equals 30 minutes per mile or 2 miles per hour.
• 105 steps per minute equals 20 minutes per mile or 3 miles per hour.
• 140 steps per minute equals 15 minutes per mile or 4 miles per hour.
If you pay attention to your steps, after a while you will be able to estimate your pace fairly accurately without bothering to count. You will simply know what a 20 minute mile or a 15 minute mile feels like.
Walking is the best medicine (Part I)
Walking is the best medicine (Part II): a double dose of benefit
Walking is the best medicine (Part III) – First steps