Walk the good walk

2008-05-02 00:00

“Iused to be teased by my husband about walking. He used to say that it wasn’t serious exercise. Then he walked one of our routes with me and battled to keep up. He was impressed by how far and fast we walk. He doesn’t tease me anymore,” said a member of the Walkie Talkies, a group of Hilton women who walk regularly.

Walking is a natural form of exercise that most people do every day to some extent. Almost anyone can walk, making it a highly accessible way to exercise. According to Health24, it is one of the fastest-growing and most popular activities worldwide, and Pietermaritzburg is no exception.

The Walkie Talkies group was started about 12 years ago by several women, including Caroline Davis and Murrae Godbold. Davis said: “We wanted an aerobic form of exercise as part of a get-fit regime and walking suited us. We walk five days a week in the early mornings for at least an hour. Walking in a group allows us to walk safely in areas like the forests and wetlands. We limit membership to about 12 as we become a traffic hazard on the roads if there are too many of us.”

A major point in favour of walking is that it poses the smallest possible health risk of any form of cardiovascular exercise. Toni Jubber (64), a Walkie Talkies member, had a triple heart bypass operation in 2006. “The medical personnel said it was absolutely essential that I walk, so I started by walking down the corridor, which was a triumph. I built up slowly until I could return to walking with the group after about six months. I have been walking for more than 20 years, but could only join the group and walk daily when I retired in 2000,” Jubber said.

The oldest member of the Walkie Talkies group is Marge Crossley. In her mid-sixties, she has walked with the group since 2000. “I had a hip replacement operation last year and was back walking as soon as possible. I started walking when our son Rick died, not only for exercise but also to help me cope with our loss. We have become friends and it is an important support group for all of us as well as a way to exercise.”

Residents of the northern suburbs have what one walker called “a remarkable facility” for walking at the Protea Sports Grounds in Raisethorpe. Walkers whom The Witness interviewed said that in good weather, hundreds of people walk around the 500-metre tarred track in the evenings.

The grounds have lighting which allows walkers to keep walking after dark. Two residents who walk regularly are Maureen Rajah (58) and her aunt Faith Raman (69). “We walk about five kilometres at least five times a week to keep fit. One of the best things about this ground is that it is safe — there are always people around,” said Rajah.

A group of people who also walk at least five times a week are P. S. Sewram, Pravesh Dayalal, who had a triple bypass operation, and Balan Moodley, who has run the Comrades Marathon 11 times. Sewram said: “First in the afternoons are the housewives and shift workers, then after 5 pm are the people going home from work. Many retired people and housewives walk in the mornings. Fewer people walk in winter, but there is always someone walking.”

All you really need to start walking are motivation, discipline and a pair of comfortable shoes with adequate support and shock absorption. Add a “walking buddy” if you need help to keep at it, and a watch with a second hand to measure your heart rate if you want to monitor the intensity of your exercise.

The benefits that you derive from walking depend on many factors, including how frequently you walk, the distance you cover and the intensity of your walks.

While a half-hour stroll will certainly reduce your stress levels and improve your general health, it will not make you lose weight. So, before you start walking, decide what you want to achieve and plan a programme accordingly.

Our cardiovascular systems do not respond to what form of exercise we do, but to effort and exertion, so you will definitely reap rewards from walking.

A word of caution before you head out to pound the streets. Kathleen McQuaide, a Health24 sports scientist, recommends that the following people seek medical approval first: men over 40, women over 50, and people who have either a chronic disease or high health risk factors. She suggests the following to get you started on a walking programme:

• measure out routes ranging from two kilometres to five kilometres in a safe and attractive neighbourhood;

• do some baseline measurements like your weight and waist, hips and chest dimensions so that you can measure your progress;

• buy a log book to record these measurements and your walking sessions;

• warm up for five minutes and stretch before starting out on a walk;

• don’t do too much too soon, but build up gradually to limit the risk of injury; and

• choose a walking programme that suits you: beginner — five kilometres in six weeks or 10 weeks, depending on age, fitness, etc.; intermediate: — five kilometres in six weeks; advanced — 10 kilometres in 11 weeks.

If you are keen to get started but don’t have anyone to walk with, you could sign up with a walking programme like Run/Walk for Life, that can help you to achieve your goals in a safe and professional setting where you are carefully monitored. [See sidebar for details].

run/walk for life

Jane Dickinson, franchise manager of a Run/Walk for Life group that meets in Hilton, says that people of any age are welcome to join.

“The group is endorsed by the Heart Foundation and we often get people referred by medical practitioners after heart or back operations.

“Members may choose to walk or run, but everyone starts slowly, walking on a field and then progresses from there.”

A keen runner herself, Dickinson is trained to monitor members as they exercise and manage their progress.

Payment of the set membership and sign-up fees can be structured to suit individuals.

Membership is free for children under 12.

The group meets at Cowan House School, Hilton, on Mondays, Wednesdays and

Fridays at 5 pm.

Dos and don’ts of starting to walk

Dos

• Make walking a priority and allocate time to it. Unless you recognise it as an essential feature of your healthy lifestyle, you are unlikely to sustain it.

• Find a person to walk with or join a group that walks regularly. Accountability doubles your chances of persevering.

• Get your spouse or housemate to walk too, so you won’t have someone sabotaging your attempts to get fit and healthy.

• Invest in a good pair of walking shoes. Sales staff at sports shops can usually help.

• Goal setting and positive reinforcement are strongly linked to sustainability so set yourself one or two goals a month and reward yourself when you achieve them.

• Monitor your progress by recording the distance walked, the time it took, your exercising heart rate over 10 seconds and your body dimensions every month.

• Find an attractive variety of routes to avoid boredom. Work out a set route and walk it as fast as you can once a week to measure your fitness and performance. Do your other walks at a moderate intensity.

• Read up on the benefits of regular walking to strengthen your resolve to keep up this healthy habit.

Don’ts

• If you aim to lose weight, don’t expect significant loss in the first few weeks. Walking three to four times a week at a moderate to high intensity can result in fat loss, if combined with high-carbohydrate, low-fat meals. Try to eat five small meals or snacks each day rather than two or three heavy meals. Rather focus on your body measurements and how your clothes fit.

• Don’t walk alone or in the dark and wear a reflective belt or clothing at dawn or dusk.

• Don’t miss sessions early on in your programme — be strict with yourself. In a few months, you will look forward to walking.

— Health24.

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