It is the most elementary of exercises and a basic part of most everyone’s daily activity. Yet walking — that thing we do when we put one foot in front of the other — can be a mystery for those hoping to benefit from it.
Because it’s so simple, it’s difficult to know how much is enough: How fast and far do you need to walk to get and keep in shape?
"That’s always the question," said Catrine Tudor-Locke, assistant professor in the department of exercise and wellness at Arizona State University East.
Tudor-Locke is creator of the First Step Program and author of "Manpo-Kei: The Art and Science of Step Counting" ($14.25, Trafford Publishing). She recommends that people — even those who have hectic schedules and walk throughout the day — strap on a pedometer to count the number of steps they take in a typical day.
"Busy does not necessarily mean active," Tudor-Locke said.
The average American adult takes about 7,000 steps per day. Thirty minutes of walking translates to about 3,000 to 4,000 steps, and 5,000 steps per day is what experts consider "sedentary." Tudor-Locke said most people need take about 3,000 to 4,000 extra steps to achieve an acceptable level of fitness through walking. That’s about 10,000 steps per day.
Another way to find out if you’re walking enough is to use online resources to track progress. In February, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona launched Walking Works (www.bcbsaz.com/walking), a free program that allows registrants to enter minutes and miles walked, as well as keep a journal. Open to anyone age 18 and older, the Web site features information from health experts to help create personalized walking programs based on fitness goals.
And at fixed milestones — 500 minutes, 2,000 minutes, 4,500 minutes — walkers are given awards.
These provide motivation "to keep on walking," said Jenny Brooks, communications specialist with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona.
Of course, distance and time are only two parts of an effective walking program. Pace is equally important. Brooks said staff nurses at Blue Cross Blue Shield recommend maintaining at least a 15-minute mile pace, which can be easily calculated with a watch.
Tudor-Locke said walking doesn’t have to be a stress to the body.
"It’s not like you have to go out there and wear the headband in a power strut," she said. Taking a "brisk walk" — a pace most people walk at normally — will produce far-reaching results, which can include weight loss, improved blood pressure and a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
Buying a pedometer
Pedometers are available in a variety of styles and prices. Catrine Tudor-Locke, who wears a pedometer every day to track the number of steps she takes, said it is important to test different models before buying one. Strap the pedometer onto your belt line in a vertical position to ensure it doesn’t roll on its side (pedometers track steps by detecting up-and-down hip movement). Then, take 20 steps at your normal pace and make sure the pedometer is within one step of that.