You don't like the way you look in the mirror. You're noticing some flab. So you’ve made the big commitment, and this time... you really mean it.
For any of so many reasons - all of them good - you’re going to start (or re-start) walking, jogging, running or some other plan.
Congratulations! The right exercise and the right diet are life-enhancers on their own - and the best things ever when practiced together.
How to figure out the right exercise
This can be hard. There are differences between walking, walking fast, jogging fast and running. Differences between using a gym-style machine or just your feet, your shoes and the road. The most important first step is to check in with your doc to let her or him know you’re rarin’ to go. Definitely get your blood pressure checked. If it’s high, you’ll need to be careful you don’t overdo it.
The next step is to set an objective. Different exercise regimens give you different results. What’s your goal? Stronger, sexier abs? Shed some pounds? Running a marathon? Strengthening certain muscle groups or joints? Longevity?
Next, just as important: how much time are you willing to commit? Twenty minutes to an hour every day? Two hours a week? Don’t set your bar too high at first. I’ve written before that even getting off the couch or desk chair and walking around for a few minutes - once an hour - can work wonders. When you decide your level of commitment, pick a time when you’ll do your exercise... and commit. Make it a calendar item: “Every (day/week) at (1/2/3 o’clock), (walk/jog/run) for (1/2/3 minutes/hours).”
Important: Let people know you’re not available at that time - and do errands and chores before or after.
Now choose shoes - how?
It’s a bit surprising that there’s still some controversy over the best shoe for certain routines. “Best” meaning least likely to cause injury and most comfortable. At one end of the spectrum, barefoot or minimal foot cover was recently all the rage. At the other end, it’s all about a shoe engineered to adjust how much our feet “pronate,” or rolls inward when they hit the ground. There are “over-pronaters “and “under-pronaters.” According to this approach, both can increase the risk of running injuries and can be controlled by choosing the appropriate types of shoes to address your running style.
Recent research has given us some valuable insights - and probably embarrassed many shoe designers and marketers.
Over-pronation? Not a problem. In fact, fewer over-pronating runners in one study were injured during a year of study than runners who didn’t over-pronate. Another study showed that runners with shoes designed to control their degree of pronation were as likely, or more likely, to sustain running-related injuries than runners wearing shoes at random.
And the most useful study, to me, showed a sort of no-brainer: Runners who wore the shoes they found most comfortable were the least likely to have running-related injuries.
So try on shoes until you find the most comfortable pair. Then, if the shoes fit…
On your own or on a machine?
Pass me the research, please (thanks, Mayo Clinic).
Using an elliptical machine will probably burn more calories than walking: 365 over an hour vs 314. It will also put far less stress on your joints (take note if weight loss is your goal).
Walking is much better than an elliptical machine for the key leg and ankle muscles for keeping your balance. Make them strong and you’ll reduce the risk of falls as you age.
But wait again!
Your arm movements on the elliptical machine don’t give you much of an upper-body workout, but they do work the muscles around the hip joints and in the lower back. This is beneficial if your goal is a stronger midsection.
The most recent research suggests that an elliptical machine is a good choice if you have weak knees - and can figure out how the machine works. Note that elliptical machines were voted the least enjoyable and most confusing equipment in a test of gym machines, including treadmills.
So, when in doubt, just walk - 30 minutes to an hour a day is plenty.
Set speed and time limits
Take care and govern how vigorously you start your program.
Take it sloooow. Overdoing it early on not only raises your risk of injury, but it will likely scare you off altogether. Just remember that you’ll get stronger, faster and better incrementally. Start with as little as ten minutes a day and then add more time, difficulty and speed as you get better.
So what’s the optimum speed? How fast? How far? And what are the relative health benefits of different rates?
Research into mortality rates and energy expended when deliberately walking or jogging for exercise, i.e. not to do ordinary tasks, shows that:
- People who walk for exercise are likely to live longer than those who don’t. Even the slowest walkers in one study, who walked at about 3 mph for 20 to 40 minutes per day - a mile or two - saw a reduction of 10 percent in mortality risk.
- Walking a bit farther at the same speed - say, 2 to 3 miles at 3 mph - gets you a hefty additional mortality risk reduction of about 30 percent.
- Walking more than that, or for more than an hour a day at this speed, is no better.
- The optimal walking/jogging exercise is light to moderate jogging.
- The optimal speed is between 5 and 7 mph.
So hit the ground walking. Slowly.