Monday, October 17, 2011

Complete Guide to Walking

Walking Magazine's Complete Guide to Walking for Health, Weight Loss, and Fitness
© 2001 Mark Fenton
261 pages

In late August or early September, I woke up early one morning, donned my wide-brimmed straw hat, and set off for an early-morning walk around my neighborhood. I found the jaunt an excellent way to wake up in the morning, and since I needed to get active, I made the morning walk a routine of mine. Now, over a month later, I'm walking well over five miles a day and am enjoying much stronger legs and an abundance of energy. Since I anticipate making this a lifelong activity, I decided to see if there was any literature on the subject. Walking Magazine's Complete Guide to Walking for Health, Weight Loss, and  Fitness is as complete and enjoyable an introduction to the subject as I can imagine, and a definite recommendation to those interested in becoming more active or in losing weight.

Author Mark Fenton begins by explaining the benefits of walking as an exercise: it's easy to do, it can be done anywhere, and it requires essentially nothing in the way of special equipment, only a pair of sensible shoes and the will to do it. Walking is a fundamentally natural exercise, so it's easy to start and maintain. Fenton takes the reader through a year in the life of a walker, beginning with weekly program of ten minutes per day and slowly ramping up to a desired average of thirty minutes per day.  A few weeks in, Fenton dedicates a chapter to walking for weight-loss, and explains the basics of metabolism. One of the best points he makes in the book is that diet alone is not a sustainable way to lose weight: as your weight decreases, so do the amount of calories that you need. To keep losing, the dieter must cut out more and more calories from their diet, which is unsustainable given the basic needs of the body -- and the sheer distastefulness of not being able to eat anything. Those who eat moderately and exercise can continue to lose weight  or maintain a healthy weight throughout their life simply by increasing the intensity or length of their workouts. I can attest to this, because I have been consistently losing weight every week in the past month+ since I started walking, without drastic changes to my diet. (Although, I lost a lot less that week I enjoyed a piece of my friend's fresh out-of-the-oven cheesecake...) Although weight loss will be a side effect of a healthy walking habit, Fenton's goal with this book is broader than that. He aims toward total body fitness, and so also advices strength-training exercises. In the early months, these are introduced to strengthen one's "core" to complement the walking, while exercises in the latter half of the book are intended to work muscles that aren't active through walking alone.  A few months into the habit, the author suggests it may be time for new shoes -- and dedicates a chapter towards useful walking gear, like how to dress for inclement weather. He also advocates cross-training, and ends with a chapter on "racewalking".

I give the book high praise for its organization and presentation: Fenton is a passionate, thorough, and useful guide. Visually, it's quite appealing, though I found the fact that all of the pictures featured fit twenty-something females in flattering attire rather amusing. I suppose that's proof to this being the product of a magazine, as is perhaps some mild product-placement in the gear section.  I'll be referring to this book in later months when I do more strength training.

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