Walk for Your Life!

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“Walk for Your Life!” Ensign, Aug. 1990, 72–73

Walk for Your Life!

At age seventy-seven, Beth suffered a heart attack and had to undergo a coronary bypass operation. After she was released from the hospital, she was frightened of overexerting herself, so she seldom left home, and she stopped almost all physical activity. Soon she became so weak that she was unable to prepare meals or to dress herself. Her condition continued to deteriorate.

One day, her neighbor Lisa came by to visit, “Are you just going to sit there and wait to die?” Lisa asked. “Or are you going to do something to help yourself feel better? Come walking with me.”

Beth was startled—but she listened. That day she got out of bed and dressed herself. After a week she was able to walk to the door. After three weeks she made it to the mailbox. Within a few months, she could walk all the way around her block. During this time, Beth also began to prepare meals, do her laundry, and attend church again. Now she looks forward to her daily walk and says that she feels better than ever.

Beth’s experience isn’t unique to the elderly. Almost anyone, of any age, would benefit from a consistent walking program.

Why Walk?

Research has shown that a simple daily walking program can make a significant difference in our overall well-being. Those who walk consistently are ill less frequently, and their bodies age more slowly. Walking invigorates cardiovascular functioning, which normally declines with age. Walking also slows bone demineralization, especially in the legs,1 and it serves as a deterrent to increased fat storage; increases circulation, which reduces joint inflammation and pain in people who suffer from arthritis2; and improves all factors (except age, heredity, and smoking) that are linked to cardiovascular disease.

Before You Begin

With all of walking’s potential benefits, it is hard to find a valid reason not to be involved in some type of walking program. There is, however, one stipulation: You must be free from any health problems that may be worsened by exercise. Ask yourself, “Do I have any concerns about my current health?” If you do, obtain a physical examination from your doctor and ask him if you can safely start a walking program.

For your walking, wear a pair of shoes that fits well and has a cushioned sole. Running shoes and the new athletic walking shoes are designed to be comfortable and to lessen shock.

In order to walk at the right pace, you need to know your Target Heart Rate (THR). Your THR is the most effective training pulse for maximum cardiovascular and fat-burning benefits given your age and current fitness level. Using your THR ensures that you do not exert yourself too much or too little.

To figure your THR, subtract your age from 220, then multiply this number by .75. During a brisk walk, your heart rate per minute should be near your calculated THR. (To monitor your heart rate, find your pulse by placing your first two fingers on the thumb side of the opposite wrist. Count your pulse for ten seconds, then multiply this number by six. This is your heart rate per minute.) If your heart rate is above your THR, slow down a little and check it again after a few minutes. If your heart rate is below your THR, try to walk a little faster.

Ready, Set, Walk!

For a few minutes before you start walking, loosen up by stretching. Concentrate on your legs, calves, and trunk. This prepares your muscles and joints for exercise. Then warm up by walking normally for five minutes to increase your heart rate slowly. For the next twenty to forty-five minutes, walk briskly, taking full strides and swinging your arms. During the first few minutes of your brisk walking, pause for ten seconds and count your pulse, then adjust your pace accordingly. Before you completely stop, cool down by walking slowly for five minutes to allow your pulse to lower gradually and safely. Stretch for a few minutes when you are finished to prevent stiffness and to increase flexibility.

For maximum benefit, you should walk three to five times a week for twenty to forty-five minutes. But programs can be tailored to fit any individual and any schedule. By adjusting the length, pace, and frequency of walks, anyone can participate. By walking only a few minutes a day, a previously sedentary adult can, over time, progress to a brisk forty-five-minute walk over hilly terrain.

Make Walking Interesting

Many business people walk during their lunch breaks. Some like to include colleagues or clients and discuss business matters. Members of one Relief Society presidency walk together every morning and talk about the needs of the sisters in their ward. Husbands and wives can converse about daily happenings as they exercise. And parents can really work up a sweat if they take small children along in strollers.

A good walking program can be an important part of a balanced life. It can improve your life physically, and since spiritual sensitivity increases when one is unhampered by physical concerns, it can improve your life spiritually as well. So what are you waiting for? Take a walk!—Steven G. Aldana, Tempe, Arizona

Illustrated by Scott Greer