2017-09-01 / Health & Wellness

Lace up your shoes, stay fit

FITNESS TODAY /// Walk, don’t run Walking is great low-impact exercise
By Karen Robiscoe
Special to the Acorn

Walking. It’s probably the easiest and most accessible exercise a person can do, which probably explains why so many of us opt to add a stroll to our routines when trying to tone up. A great low-impact activity, all you need is two feet and a good pair of shoes.

Neighborhood ambler Sara Munro considers walking a “no-brainer” because you don’t “have to plan it.”

“It’s therapeutic, too,” Munro said, confiding that she’s working through some loss in her family. “You just open your door and go.”

Walking is pretty basic, but there are principles to your pace. When you walk, the bulk of your weight is above the pivot point, an alternating dynamic between stance leg and swing leg.

This is biomechanically known as the inverted pendulum, where the body is the mass and the legs are the pivot point. Each step’s heel strike generates energetic effects to comprise a regular gait that’s reflexively stable.

The majority of us perform this aerobic activity at 3 miles per hour, in stride lengths varying from 2 to 2 ½ feet, heel to heel. At least one of those heels will be on the ground at any given time, whereas with running there is a brief period during each stride when neither foot touches the ground.

Like walking, running requires little more than feet and shoes, but it takes endurance, too. Luckily, the stamina needed for running builds as you go. Sure, you use the same muscles running as you do walking, but the quadriceps complex, hamstring muscles, hip flexors and gluteus medius work harder in this aerobic endeavor than its more leisurely counterpart. This translates to quicker results for you.

While walking acts like an inverted pendulum swinging along, the running gait is a return-energy system, more like a spring reliant on the Achilles tendon and tendons at the knee and thigh muscle to recycle impact energy.

Another key difference between walking and running is how the foot makes contact with the ground. Walking involves the heel hitting the ground first, whereas a properly executed running stride involves midfoot contact, with greater forefoot strike as speed increases.

Sprinting for short bursts during a distance run helps kick your heart rate into the fat-burning zone. As a bonus, the accelerated lope brings more of the gluteus maximus into play.

Running up and down stadium steps is a great way to take it to the next level. You can burn well over 800 calories per hour running stairs, and it’s a natural addition to a running regimen, especially if you’re already clocking laps at the local track.

Running steps works the same muscles as running does, but in a staggered fashion. Going upward, the calf and hamstring muscles do most of the exertion, with the calf muscles effecting the push off and the hamstring complex helping the knee bend.

The knee bend naturally requires some gluteus effort, even as the knee lift requires ab work. Remember, going downward impacts your joints more than the trip topside, so it’s smart to walk or jog to the bottom instead of running. This tones your quadriceps, and calls on the hip flexors, to boot.

I prefer to put my feet to work on hiking trails. There is an abundance of beautiful trails just minutes away from your front porch, no matter where you live on the coast.

From front country to back, the benefits of trail hiking are obvious. You add scenery and greenery to your exertions, and Mother Nature is an awfully hard companion to turn down. Her beautiful backdrops help restore the soul.

“It’s cheaper than therapy.” hiker Jeffery Light said, laughing as he explained he was a “recovering lawyer.” “It’s great California has so many accessible parks and trails. I do a lot of serious walking and hiking, and it’s especially interesting to try new trails.”

So go for that stroll. Or that hike. Lace up and light out. Choose a path that suits your sensibilities and goals, and you’ll be more toned in just a few hours a week.

Karen Robiscoe is a certified fitness trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine, and a published author of short fiction, essays and poetry. Email Robiscoe at iscribe@cox.net, or visit her at www.charronschatter.com.

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