Hey ... go take a walk!

Can you walk away from this? An exercise that is relatively safe, convenient, inexpensive and requires little previous experience, yet promises many of the benefits previously associated with more intense workouts.

No, then take a walk.

How much you should walk depends upon your health and your current level of fitness and the goals of your exercise program. If walking is your only form of aerobic exercise, 10 or 12 miles a week is recommended. This amount will generally enable most people to meet the standard guidelines that encourage some form of aerobic exercise three to five times a week for 15 to 60 minutes per session, performed at a moderately challenging intensity.

If you are new to exercise, it may take you several weeks to work up to one mile a session at first. Increase your distance by no more than ten percent a week and cut back if you have any signs of injury.

Even a little walking is better than no walking. If you cannot make 10 miles a week, don’t give up! Public health reports have shown that the greatest gains in long-term health accrue to absolutely sedentary people who add even a small amount of walking, say 15 to 20 minutes a day, to their lives.

If you are walking to increase cardiovascular endurance, target heart rates are very helpful here. To increase your aerobic capacity you will need to exercise at about 60 to 80 percent of your predicted maximum heart rate. Your predicted maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age. For example, a 40-year-old would have a predicted maximum heart rate of 180, and a target heart rate range of 108 to 144.

To find out whether your heart rate is in your target zone, take a 15-second pulse after you have been walking for at least five minutes. You can divide your target heart rate by four to get the beats needed in a 15-second count. If your heart rate is too slow, increase your pace. If you are taking medication that alters your heart rate, then these formulas will not work for you. Check with your physician about correct exercise intensity.

People with a high fitness level sometimes have difficulty reaching their target heart rate zones when walking. If you live near some hills (which many of us do), find a hilly route. Some people find hand weights helpful, as long as you pump your arms. People with back problems may find that walking with hand weights hurts their backs.

Walking conditions the cardiovascular system, helps maintain bone density, burns calories and reduces stress. But, it does not do much for muscular strength and flexibility. An ideal exercise program would include some resistance exercise, such as calisthenics or weight training, and some stretching as well.

Enjoy your walk.

Embrace spring and all the signs of new life.