DEAR DR. DONOHUE: Please answer some walking questions for me. What is considered a slow and what a fast walk? How do I know if I am walking at a pace that really benefits me? What’s the best walking posture, and do I swing my arms? Is there any way to make walking a more intensive exercise? – F.M.

ANSWER:
A slow walk is 80 steps a minute; a fast walk, 120. Don’t be upset by these numbers. Even if you take 80 or fewer steps a minute, you’re still getting beneficial exercise.

You can tell if the pace of your walk is giving your heart exercise by how you feel. If you are casually tiptoeing through the tulips and your body tells you this is a breeze, your pace is too slow. If you feel that the pace of your walk is more strenuous than the customary way you walk, then you are walking at a desirable pace. You don’t need to clock yourself. You don’t need to count the number of steps you take.

The best walking posture is back straight and head looking forward, not at the feet. Look into the distance. But you have to be aware of the ground conditions in front of you or you could disappear into a sinkhole. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees. Yes you should swing your arms. Alternate arm swings so that the right arm is forward when the left foot is forward and vice versa with the left arm and right foot. The forward swing of the arm should extend to a level where your hand is at breastbone height. The backward swing should be to a level where the upper arm is parallel to the ground.

The foot should strike the ground on its heel. The forward push-off should come from the toes.

You can increase the intensity of a walk by walking with poles. Get two poles about the size used for cross-country skiing. Put rubber tips at the ground-striking end of the poles. Simply using your arms and poles as a cross-country skier would adds to the calorie-burning cost of walking.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 89 years young. I walk each day. I take average steps. Is there any way of determining how many steps are in a mile? – V.W.

ANSWER:
There’s a very exact way of determining how many of your steps are in a mile. Measure the distance of your step. If you can measure that distance in fractions of a foot, divide it into 5,280, the number of feet in a mile. Or if you measure the distance of your step in inches, divide that number into 63,360, the number of inches in a mile.

There was an old saw that said a person should take 10,000 more steps a day than he or she usually does, and that would fulfill the exercise requirement. That is not true.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 36 years old and am struggling to lose a few more pounds. I had been working out regularly, but I had to quit for medical reasons. I am back going to the gym now, and I do at least 40 minutes of strenuous cardiovascular exercise five days a week and weight training four days a week. What is the quickest and most effective way to lose body fat? – J.S.

ANSWER:
No one can fault the quantity or quality of exercise you are currently doing. Exercise in itself is not the best way to lose weight. To burn a consistently high number of calories, you would have to dedicate most of the day to exercise. That is not feasible.

Weight loss will come if you reduce the number of calories you eat. You only have to reduce the total by 500 calories a day to see a pound lost every week.

When you create a calorie deficit for the body, it immediately shifts into a calorie-saving mode, holding on to all the body fat it can. It thinks you are going to starve. However, if you keep up your exercise program, exactly as it is, you will bolster your body metabolism, and fat will be burned.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.