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"You can help strengthen your core, tone your glutes, and get lean, defined legs by running or walking regularly," says Ed Laskowski, MD, codirector of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center in Rochester, Minnesota. To see the most benefits in your abs, focus on keeping your core muscles engaged (imagine pulling your belly button toward your spine) and breathing deeply as you go.Walking is an excellent workout for beginners -- and costs almost nothing.
"I started walking as a form of cardio that wasn't intimidating but was still challenging," says Heather Washington, 30, a software trainer in Savannah, Georgia. "Walking was something I could do at my own pace with little equipment, wherever I wanted." Aside from comfy clothes (including a good sports bra), all you really need is a reliable pair of athletic shoes, which should last about six months or 600 miles.Walking is a no-fail way to lose weight.
A study from the Center for Physical Activity and Health at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville found that women who take 10,000 steps per day (about 5 miles) have lower body-fat ratios and waist and hip circumferences than their less active counterparts. Walking is an easy calorie burner, too. You'll shed 210 calories in 30 minutes when walking a 15-minute mile; 420 when running a 10-minute mile.These workouts provide huge heart-health benefits.
"Walking increases HDL [good] cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, and assists with weight control," says Dr. Laskowski. A study from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston reported that brisk walking for three or more hours a week could reduce the risk of heart attacks and heart disease-related deaths in women by an astounding 35 percent.
Sometimes the last place you want to be is on a treadmill or a stationary bike beside a sweaty stranger. "I love taking my dog to the Stowe Quiet Path, which is an off-leash area with a beautiful stream and impressive views of Vermont's highest mountain, Mount Mansfield," says Cynthia Gray, president of the Vermont-based Twin States Volkssport Association, a walking club. According to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, people who walk, run, or cycle on community trails at least once a week are twice as likely as people who rarely use them to get the recommended amount of daily exercise.Running may make you smarter.
A study from Japan found that individuals scored higher on intelligence tests after participating in a 12-week exercise program of running for 30 minutes two or three times a week. Another study, at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, found that mice that ran regularly grew more brain cells in their hippocampus -- the part of the brain that controls learning and memory -- than those who swam or were sedentary.Running makes you invincible!
(Or at least feel like you are.) "After that first panting, painful slogging-through-pudding mile, my breath, my body and my mind all enter a kind of blissful rhythmic sync. A weird inner energy seems to surface, and I have an elated 'I can' feeling that crescendos into the ultimate post-run 'I did' feeling," says Lynda Twardowski, 32, an editor in Traverse City, Michigan.Cardio workouts help you stay young.
A lifetime of moderate exercise, such as walking 30 minutes or taking a light 1-mile run every day, could help fight the effects of aging on your brain, according to a study conducted at the McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida in Gainesville. And it's good for your bones as well: "Walking is an excellent weight-bearing exercise that helps preserve bone marrow density and prevent osteoporosis or lessen its effects," says Dr. Laskowski.For every step you take, you're helping to save the planet.
The Worldwatch Institute reports that walking or running 4 miles instead of driving keeps about 15 pounds of pollutants out of the air that we breathe. If a family were to walk two miles a day instead of taking the car, in one year they would prevent 730 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.These workouts boost your mood.
"Walking and running improve your sleep quality, mental performance, and attitude throughout the day," says Dr. Laskowski. A study at the University of Texas at Austin found that after walking on a treadmill for 30 minutes, people suffering from depression reported feeling better overall and more vigorous than before they exercised.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, March 2007.