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How to Lose Fat, Gain Muscle, Feel Happier and Get Healthier – At No Cost?

Benefits of Walking

  • Improved psychological and physical well-being
  • Lower low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol)
  • Higher high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol)
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduced risk for diabetes
  • Helps with weight-loss and weight-management
  • Induces Happiness
  • Improves your mood
  • Creates higher fitness, including an increase in oxygen use and better heart health
  • Keeps you looking and feeling years younger

Psst! There is a new fitness trend in town. It doesn’t cost you anything to sign up and is guaranteed to make you leaner, boost your fitness, mood and happiness and can even prevent life-threatening disease.

They call it “Walking!”

Multiple research studies have proven that by simply walking five days a week for 30 minutes, individuals can reap significant health benefits and keep looking and feeling years younger.

Today, the majority of Americans do not engage in the government recommended 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. National estimates suggest that at least 54 percent of Americans aren’t active enough and 38 percent of the population aged 55 and older is sedentary.

America’s obesity epidemic is directly linked to a lack of exercise and overconsumption of unhealthy foods. Statistics show that roughly 34 percent of U.S. adults are obese, or more than 30 pounds overweight, with 31.7 percent of U.S. children now also being overweight or obese, which puts them at risk for developing life-threatening diseases, including Type II diabetes, a former adult problem, heart disease and cancer. Engaging in physical activity is more critical than ever, because it can prevent obesity, overweight and its associated diseases, as well as help manage existing diseases and reduce medication needs. Not only that. Physical activity, including walking, can help you sleep better, give you more energy, reduce stress, improve sexual function, elevate your mood, fight colds, and even elongate your life span.

The good news is that you don’t have to buy into the latest fitness craze or spend a lot of money on equipment or classes to reap the many benefits of exercise.

A good pair of walking shoes, safe progression (if you’re just starting a walking program), a four-legged or two-legged friend to keep you motivated, is all you need to get started.

If you’re still skeptical that this low-impact exercise can’t boost your fitness enough, check out the following hard facts:

15 Weeks x 10,000 Steps a Day = Better Heart Health and Fitness, More Energy

A walking study published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health in 2010 followed 29 men and women between the ages of 50 and 70, 14 of which were randomly assigned to a walking group and 15 maintained their current level of everyday activity. The study’s goal was to determine whether individuals who walked 10,000 steps a day would gain any fitness, health and psychological benefits.

The accumulation of 10,000 steps a day has been a way to prescribe physical activity for the general population as it is relatively consistent with U.S. public health guidelines of accumulating 30 minutes of daily physical activity.

The participants had three weeks to reach 10,000 steps a day and were asked to maintain that level for 12 weeks with the control group keeping their current activity. After 15 weeks of committing to 10,000 steps a day, the walking group showed improved heart health, greater fitness (an increase in walking distance), and lower total cholesterol levels, and they experienced a significant boost in perceived well-being.

In 2001, “the National Blueprint: Increasing Physical Activity Among Adults aged 50 and Older,” suggested targeting individuals aged 50 and older as a means of improving both--physical and psychological health. 

Walk Away from Diabetes-Literally

Researchers at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Melbourne of Australia, reported on Jan. 14, that walking at least 10,000 steps a day can significantly cut the risk of developing diabetes, according to published reports.

The study followed 592 middle-aged Australian adults. After five years of increasing their daily step count from below 1,000 steps to at least 10,000, the study participants showed a 10 percent improvement in insulin sensitivity, a marker for the development of diabetes.

In addition, subjects who walked more steps had less fat around the middle, or a lower ratio of the circumference of the waist to that of the hips, and they lowered their body mass index.

Walking Can Make You Happy

Similar positive results were found in a three-month study following postmenopausal women.

Women aged 50 and older who walked 10,000 steps a day for three month significantly improved their fitness, as measured by an increase in their V02 max peak or oxygen use during incremental exercise. Basically, when your V02 max increases, your fitness has improved. Additionally, the women in the study also lost body fat and experienced tremendous psychological benefits.

The women said that walking boosted their overall well-being and mood, quality of life, mobility and feelings of self-worth, according to the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.

And they said, walking induced that warm, fuzzy happy feeling all humans crave.

Walk 30 Minutes 5 Days a Week = 5 Pounds Less a Year

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention dating back to 2001, found that middle-aged women who walked for 30 minutes at least five days a week lost five pounds more in a year compared to women who walked 10 minutes a day.

The study divided 30 middle-aged female volunteers into a group that walked for 30 minutes a day and another that walked briskly for 10 minutes three times a day.

Both groups of women consumed the same amount of calories. However, the women in the 30-minute group burned 60 more calories in a 24-hour period compared to the 10-minute group.

The test only lasted three days, but theoretically, after a year, the study investigator concluded that the 30-minute walking group would lose 5 pounds more in a year vs. the other group, according to the January 2001 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

At the same time, 10 minutes of walking a day is better than not walking at all, the author said. Some individuals, including morbidly obese individuals and those recovering from serious illness, may only be able to walk for 10 minutes at a stretch.

Walking Strengthens Your Heart

A study called the Harvard Nurses’ Health Study that followed 70,102 women volunteers (all nurses) aged 40-65 for more than a decade, found that women who walked three hours or more per week cut their risk of heart attack or other coronary event by 35 percent compared to women who didn’t walk or weren’t otherwise physically active, according to medicinenet.com.

So what’s stopping you from getting your walk on?

Joining or starting a walking group, getting your co-workers involved in a lunch group walk, meeting a friend or committing with your partner to walk every day, is all it takes to get started and soon you too will be up to 10,000 steps a day. You’ll feel healthier overall, more fit, and will be able to shed a few extra pounds in time for bikini season. To kickstart your New Year, visit ACE's website and consider taking on ACE's walking program developed with the American Heart Association.


References:

  1. Amy L. Morgan, David, A. Tobar & Lauren Snyder. Walking Toward a New Me: The Impact of Prescribed Walking 10,000 Steps/Day on Physical and Psychological Well-Being. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 2010, 7, 299-307 @ 2010 Human Kinetics, Inc.
  2. T Dwyer, A-L Ponsonby, O C Ukoumunne, A Pezic, A Venn, D Dunstan, E Barr, S Blair, J Cochrane, P Zimmet, J Shaw. “Association of change in daily step count over five years with insulin sensitivity and adiposity: population based cohort study.”  British Medical Journal, 342, 13. Jan. 2011; doi:10.1136/bmj.c7249.
  3. National Blueprint: Increasing Physical Activity Among Adults Aged 50 and Older www.agingblueprint.org
  4. Roy Shepherd. Maximal Oxygen Intake. British Journal of Sports Medicine. 2009 May;43(5):342-6. Epub 2008 Apr 10.
  5. F.B. Hu; et al., Walking compared with vigorous physical activity and risk of type 2 diabetes in women; a prospective study. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association; Oct. 1999.

Marion Webb is the managing editor for the American Council on Exercise and is an ACE-certified Personal Trainer and an ACE-certified Group Fitness Instructor. To leave comments, please share them below. For specific fitness-related story ideas, please e-mail her directly at marion.webb@acefitness.org.