Most New Yorkers walk a marathon before day’s end. Walking is so second-nature, we fail to give ourselves credit for the fitness benefits of our pedestrian lifestyle. “New Yorkers live in the perfect city to incorporate walking as fitness,” says author and fitness guru Bob Greene. “There’s great scenery, and it gives people a chance to get outdoors.” Greene, best known as Oprah Winfrey’s personal trainer and author of the best-selling Get With the Program fitness series, shared some tips for taking the next steps toward making the most out of your daily routine.
Start by assessing the amount of walking you do in a typical day. Roughly speaking, twenty street blocks (north– south), or four avenue blocks (east–west), equals one mile. “Each mile is about 100 calories expended,” says Greene. “If you walk eight blocks to work each day, that’s your base activity.” Then, by recording your daily treks, you can chart your progress. (One way to do this is with a pedometer. Try the Sportline Fitness Pedometer—$29.99—which displays distance, speed, number of steps, and calories burned. It’s available at Paragon Sports.)
The next step is to look at ways you can up your mileage. “When can you replace mass transit with walking?” asks Greene. “How do you get to work? Are you within striking distance? Could you just push it and do away with the car, bus, or subway?” An hour’s worth of brisk walking (at least three miles per hour) a day—and it needn’t be a continuous hour—can dramatically cut the risk of premature death from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and other ills.
Maintaining your posture and keeping a gait are vital to getting the most out of your walk. “We’re built to walk. So it’s an activity that doesn’t create overuse injuries,” says Greene. But leave the shoulder bag or briefcase at the office. “Dynamically, when you add weights, that throws off your entire gait and posture. One of the benefits of walking is that it should improve your posture.” If you must carry something or want to add weights to your walk, Greene says, you’re better off with a backpack because it distributes the weight evenly. (Sadly, from a sartorial perspective, fanny-packs are also a good choice.)
How do you get to work? Are you within striking distance? Could you just push it and do away with the car, bus, or subway?
“If there are any stairs on the way, that’s the perfect complement to your walk,” says Greene. According to a Harvard Alumni Health Study that examined the habits of more than 11,000 men, stair climbing also lowers risk of stroke and death from all causes. How many flights do you need to climb per day? If you live in a three-story walk-up, just one round-trip each day will put you in the zone.
Be sure to change your route regularly. The variety will help to keep you motivated. Once you’ve got a good daily walk going, add another activity, such as yoga or weight lifting. “If you add another type of activity, it’s a whole new set of muscles that gets trained,” says Greene. If the weather’s horrible, you can also do your walking workout at the gym. Greene suggests that to get the most out of a treadmill walk, “get a gait that’s comfortable, but kind of a stiff pace. Once you’re there, increase the grade as much as you can.” As the difficulty level increases, just imagine that you’re late for a sample sale and there are no cabs in sight.