The Benefits of Walking
May 02, 2014 12:22PM
By Robin Shreeves
After the seemingly never-ending winter, the sun is finally shining, trees and flowers are beginning to bud and bloom, and everyone is clamoring to get outdoors and soak up nature’s warmth and beauty. One way to combine this desire with your pursuit for better health is with regular brisk walking.
Exactly what pace is a brisk walk? Collingswood’s Peggy Jubb, a certified ACE personal trainer, says to get the benefits of a brisk walk, you should aim for 15-minute miles, or the equivalent of setting a treadmill to 4.0. When you’re walking at a brisk pace, you’ll feel your heart rate increase and you may even break out in a light sweat. At that pace, the benefits of walking are substantial.
“The number one benefit is it makes the heart stronger,” says Jubb. “The heart is the most important muscle, and a brisk walk strengthens it while increasing blood flow and oxygen rate.” When the heart gets a workout, it could lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and help control high blood pressure.
“Also, walking can lower stress levels,” says Jubb. Most forms of physical activity in which heart rate is increased will boost the production of endorphins—hormones released in the brain that naturally kill pain and improve mood.
For people who want to drop some pounds, regular brisk walking can help accomplish that. “A 160-pound person will burn about 89-100 calories a mile when walking at a 15-minute mile pace,” says Jubb. That means a one-hour brisk walk can burn about 350-400 calories an hour. Even after the walk is finished, your heart rate will stay elevated for a while and continue to burn more calories than if you hadn’t taken the walk.
It takes a reduction of about 3,500 calories for the average person to lose a pound. To lose weight at a safe, slow pace (which is recommended if you want to keep it off), combine one hour of brisk walking five days a week with a 350-calorie reduction on those five days, and you could lose one pound each week.
Walking also tones your lower body. Calves, quads, hamstrings and glutes all get a good workout when you walk briskly, especially if you choose to tackle some hills during the walk. In choosing between going uphill or downhill, remember that the uphill path will help you look better in summer’s shorts and bathing suits.
“If you can add some uphill climbs into your brisk walk, you’ll be getting some of the same benefits as running,” says Jubb. Changing up terrain adds intensity to the walk and increases the heart rate even more.
Brisk walking is one of the best things that can be done for health, and its one of the least expensive. A good pair of walking shoes is the biggest expense. “Walking shoes,” Jubb advises, “should be a half- to a full-size larger than your regular shoe size to accommodate for the slight swelling that takes place when increased blood flow travels down legs and into your feet.”
Also, a water bottle to help hydrate before, during and after the activity is an inexpensive but important piece of equipment. For women, a supportive sports bra is beneficial during a brisk walk, too. That’s all the special equipment you need to get outside and start your brisk walk.
The Best Places
When planning for a one-hour brisk walk at a 15-minute mile pace, it’s important to know the distance you’ve walked. Fortunately, there are many walking trails in our region that are long enough to help you achieve the distance.
Cooper River Park, Camden County
This park runs through Pennsauken, Cherry Hill, Collingswood and Haddon Township, but don’t be overwhelmed by the number of towns. The paved trail that circles the river is a 3.8-mile loop, almost perfect for an hour brisk walk. Within the park, there is a separate track that runs 1.25 miles around Jack Curtis Stadium.
Haddon Lake Park, Camden County
Haddon Lake Park runs through Haddon Heights, Audubon and Mt. Ephraim. Start at the playground in Haddon Heights on South Park Avenue where there’s plenty of parking if you need to drive there. A full loop around—walking further into Haddon Heights to Station Avenue and then coming back past the playground and into Audubon, then Mt. Ephraim and back to the park—is about 3.2 miles.
Smithville Park, Burlington County
There are 4.4 miles of marked trails on various terrains at this park in Eastampton Township. Walkers share the trail with bicyclists, and in the winter, with cross-country skiers.
Washington Lake Park, Gloucester County
This park has many paved walkways, including a 1.56-mile trail that takes walkers in a circle so they can take as many laps as desired. Walkers need to be aware that vehicles are allowed in the park also so they should take caution before going across cross paths.
Your own neighborhood
Just step outside your front door and start walking. Mapping out the perfect fourmile trail that takes you from your home and back again in your neighborhood is easy using Google Maps. Build in a few good hills to maximize the benefits. If you don’t achieve 15-minute miles your first time out, don’t fret. The more you walk, the stronger your heart and the rest of your muscles will become. You’ll eventually work your way up to the brisk pace that’s needed for maximum benefit.
Want to find more walking and hiking trails in our area parks? Check out the links below to explore our local natural resources. There is much to see!