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Walking is a surprisingly effective strategy for lifelong health. Studies show that walkers traveling faster than five miles an hour actually burn twice as many calories as runners going the same speed.

Getting Started

To begin a walking program, keep in mind that this is lifetime health, not overnight magic. Just go for a walk at a comfortable pace slightly above a stroll. If you are over 45 and this is your first step toward fitness, check with a physician first. Start by timing how long it takes you to walk a mile comfortably on flat ground. Chances are it will take between15 and 20 minutes. That's your starting capacity - build from there. Two miles per course is enough for a start.

Set Your Frequency

The goal is three to five times a week, schedule your walks in advance and keep the appointment. The proper technique is not as important as getting out there and doing something. Keep in mind that healthy people are well overall; their activities help fend off heart disease and circulatory problems. The key is to stay active.

Keep It Up

To make walking a habit takes willpower - and sometimes a strategy. Schedule regular walks with a friend if you need an extra push or walk first thing in the morning before other commitments crop up, or get a dog. Finally, don't think of it as exercise. It's time you have set aside for yourself. Enjoy it.

What To Wear

All you really need is a good pair of walking shoes. Choose a pair with a firm heel cup for stability, a rocker sole to enhance a smooth heel-to-toe motion and plenty of room for toes so they can spread out as they push off. Wear loose, comfortable clothes.

You don't have to walk any particular way, but there comes a point when refinements offer definite benefits. The correct posture, arm swing and stride add up to higher-intensity exercise and lower risk of injury. Lean slightly forward - from the ankles, not the wait. Leaning from the waist will only tire your back and make breathing harder. Keep your head level and your chin up. This makes walking a total body activity. Keep your elbows firmly bent at a 90 degree angle and swing from the shoulder. Your hand should end its forward swing at breastbone height. On the back swing, if you are moving fast, the upper arm is almost parallel to the ground. Make your stride long and smooth. It helps to borrow some moves from competitive race walks. Keep your supporting leg straight as your body passes over it and let the hip rise and relax. As that leg moves to the rear, keep its foot on the ground as long as possible before pushing off.

Don't Forget to Stretch

At whatever level you are walking stretching is a good idea. Warm muscles respond better to stretches than cold ones, so walk for five or ten minutes until you're warm. Repeat at the end of the walk.

Source: HEALTH Magazine, Health Info Card, HIC-19L