The cheapest way to lose weight

The cheapest way to lose weight

There are some lessons in life that once learnt, can never be forgotten. Walking is one of them.

Unless your proud parents recorded a video of you taking your first step, you may have forgotten how you learnt it, but it's one brain activity that remains in your memory forever. The body just knows how to do it.

As the toddler progresses from crawling to walking, he falls less and is able to balance more. You probably walked more in your childhood and adolescent years than you do now, no thanks to modern day comforts and technology.

Walking is a form of exercise accessible to just about everybody. It's safe, simple, doesn't require registration fees, trims your waistline, has many health benefits, and is a great way to start exercising if you've been idle for a while.

Depending on the intensity of your walk, walking can be a gentle, low-impact exercise that is especially recommended for senior citizens. Walking can help control disease progression, and relieve symptoms in people with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, arthritis or other musculoskeletal problems.

Earlier this week, Kuala Lumpur was listed as the second best shopping city within the Asia Pacific region, beating Singapore, which took the number five spot. Hong Kong was listed as the best. The number of malls sprouting here is simply unbelievable. Come weekends, these places are packed with screaming children, grandparents and parents taking advantage of sales and what-nots (you can tell I'm not into retail therapy).

Do the mall walk

Now, instead of just shopping and fulfilling your designer desires, why not embark on some mall-walking? Yes, there is such a thing, although I'm not sure if it exists here. You can argue that you're walking in the mall anyway, but it's not the same.

When you're shopping, the pattern is to amble, stop, chat, walk, have-a-slurpy stop, sit, etc. You're not working your heart rate as you would when you consciously exercise. And the stop-go activity is actually more tiring than a proper workout!

With mall-walking, you don't have to worry about traffic, pollution or weather, but take extra caution regarding safety in the car parks. The only setback is if you go at peak hours, you'll keep jostling with fellow shoppers.

All you need is a pair of good, comfortable walking shoes. Get one with flexible soles to cushion your feet and absorb shock. Shoes are something you shouldn't scrimp on, as a cheap, low quality pair of footwear tends to make your feet hurt, potentially cause injuries, and discourage you from completing your workout.

The origins of mall-walking are unclear, but in many parts of the United States, malls have community-sponsored walking programmes. Some have collaborated with local hospitals or health organisations to establish walkers' clubs that provide awards for walking certain distances, discounts for shopping at the mall, occasional free breakfasts, and mileage logs for members - all in the name of walking for better health.

Doing it backwards

Now, most of us know only how to walk one way - forward. Strange at it may sound, walking backward offers plenty of benefits, and is believed to burn more calories than walking forward.

When I first heard of it, I was sceptical until I tried it myself after straining my iliotibial band from taking a tumble while skiing. I discovered it was less stressful on my joints, and allowed my injury to heal faster.

Walking backwards also increases your sense of balance and hearing, because you cannot depend on vision to steer you. It's great for people involved in a sport where they need to change directions rapidly or run backwards.

I occasionally incorporate this into my dance conditioning classes, pairing my students in twos so they can keep check and warn their partners of potholes and uneven surfaces.

Two University of Oregon professors, Barry Bates and Janet Dufek, have studied the benefits of backward walking and running on people since the 1980s. They found that backward walking creates reduced shear force on the knees, and may be useful for anyone experiencing pain going up and down stairs, or doing lunges or squats.

Walking backwards uses more energy in a shorter period of time. It is good for those recovering from hamstring strain because of reduced hip range of motion. Backward walking creates no eccentric loading of the knee joint, and can give hikers and scramblers some rest from overuse.

If you're embarking on your first walk in a decade, be it forward or backward, pay attention to your body. Gasping for air is not a good sign. At the slightest hint of pain or dizziness, stop immediately, seek help and address the problem. If necessary, go to the doctor.

Never continue with your exercises thinking you can work through the pain. Most of us have this mindset that pain is good. I confess I'm often guilty of ignoring pain, and once danced through a fractured foot, only to have it worsen.

I haven't gotten any wiser since that incident a decade ago, but at least I can (sort of) differentiate the kinds of pain and know when to stop.

Like any exercise form, it's crucial that you warm up before starting to walk. Walk slowly and march in place for about five minutes, increasing your pace until you begin to feel your muscles warming up. Then do a quick stretch for the calves, quadriceps and hamstrings, as these are the muscles engaged most while walking.

To reduce stress on your heart and muscles, end each walking session by slowing down your pace for five minutes, like taking a stroll with your sweetheart. Then, repeat your stretches, holding them for a longer time.

Start slowly, and as your fitness improves, take it up a notch by brisk walking, carrying water bottles for added resistance, or walking on an incline.

Remember, step on the heels first, followed by the ball and the toes. Research has shown that regular, brisk walking can reduce the risk of heart attack by the same amount as more vigorous exercise, such as jogging.

Maximise heart rate

As you walk, measure the intensity of your workout by checking your heart rate. Knowing your heart rate allows you to increase the intensity to maximise your workout, or slow down to avoid overdoing it.

A simple way to calculate your heart rate is by using the Karvonen formula, devised by a Scandinavian physiologist, and widely considered the gold standard by fitness professionals.

To get your maximum heart rate, minus your age from 220. For example, if you're a 40-year-old, your maximum heart rate would be 180, ie you shouldn't work at a level that sends your heart pumping at 180 pulses per minute.

If you're new to exercise, your targeted heart rate range should be between 50 per cent to 60 per cent of your maximum heart rate, ie you should be working to get your pulse up to 90-108. As your fitness improves, you can take your targeted heart rate range up to 85 per cent.

To find out if you're exercising within the range of your target heart rate, stop walking to check your pulse manually at your wrist (radial artery) or neck (carotid artery). Another option is to wear an electronic device that displays your heart rate.

If you don't like walking alone, invite your spouse, partner, friend or neighbour to join you. I've seen many individuals walk with their dogs. In fact, sometimes I'm not sure who is the master, because oftentimes, I've seen the dogs keep better pace than their owners!

When I go on my weekend hikes up a hill, a familiar face I bump into is a woman who races with her two German shepherds. Not only do they keep her company, they are excellent guard dogs and sniff out the snakes in the area.

Walk six times a week, at least 30 minutes per session, or break it up into two 15-minute sessions. That's not too much to ask, is it?

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