Walking and Running are simple, green, cheap routes to fitness

A step in the right direction can literally begin with just that–a step. Just put on a pair of reliable shoes, and place one foot in front of the other. You can walk, jog, or run in the direction of better physical and mental health.

Moving Ahead

There are many reasons for pounding the pavement. For starters, you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to take to the streets; anyone can do it. There’s no need to shell out for balls, rackets, skis, clubs, or other expensive equipment that could end up forgotten in your closet or make their way to a landfill if you don’t stick with the activity. And on an environmentally conscious level, your feet don’t burn fossil fuels. (See “Green Feet.”) Setting them in motion can improve not only your scenery, but your heart, lungs, bones, joints, and even mood.

Teens need at least an hour of daily physical activity, and aerobic exercise should make up most of it. Aerobic exercise–such as walking, jogging, or running at a steady pace–slowly boosts your body’s need for oxygen. It makes your heart and lungs work harder, which gradually strengthens them. Regular exercise lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, reduces your risk of diabetes and some cancers, and helps you maintain a healthy weight. And if all those physical benefits don’t cheer you up, consider this: Aerobic exercise triggers your brain to release chemicals called endorphins into your bloodstream. They block pain and anxiety and lift your spirits naturally.

Walk This Way

Walking may be the easiest exercise to take up. You already have the skills. Step outside and pick up your feet. If it’s raining or snowing, walk in a shopping mall or make tracks inside your house. Walk 10 or 15 minutes at a comfortable pace. When that begins to feel easy, speed up a bit and walk a few minutes longer. Even if you don’t have a big chunk of time, a few short walks each day can provide many of the same health advantages as one long trek.

Kelson G., a high school junior, sometimes walks with her morn for exercise. In 2009, they hiked 34 miles in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. You may not be ready for that kind of mileage, but see whether you can gradually work your way up to walking 30 to 60 minutes a day. Because walking is something you can do on your own, it’s an exercise you’re more likely to continue after high school and throughout your life.

Fun Run

Though she walks and runs now, Kelson didn’t get much exercise before joining the Nittany Track and Field Club in State College, Pa., three years ago. She felt very slow starting out, and she says “being bad” at running made it tempting to quit. “My dad helped me see that I was healthier than I would be if I wasn’t doing it at all,” Kelson adds.

Likewise, Jacob P., 15, wasn’t doing much physical activity when he decided to start running to get in shape for baseball tryouts at his Las Cruces, N.M., high school. His goal was simple: Keep moving forward. “When I cramped up,” Jacob says, “I walked until I could run again. I built my endurance.”

That’s what Jeff Galloway, a columnist for Runner’s World magazine and a former Olympic runner, advises. Want to get the pick-me-up of a good workout while reducing the risk of aches, pains, or injuries? Try alternating periods of running with short walk breaks, Galloway suggests. As you build up your stamina, gradually add minutes to your running time and decrease your walking. But remember: Any time you need to stop running and walk, do it. You never have to eliminate walk breaks.

If you are looking for something between walking and running, try jogging. What’s the difference between joggingand running? “None,” according to Galloway. It’s all about moving forward.

Jacob defines jogging as “a more relaxed pace.” He goes 1 to 3 miles every day after school. “I usually jog the first half,” Jacob says, “then I run faster on the way back.”

He really looks forward to his runs. “It gives me a chance to reflect,” notes Jacob. “I get rid of the stress of the day.” He also credits running with helping him increase his energy and drop extra weight.

And no matter how you are moving forward, don’t worry about whether you’re doing it right. Galloway doesn’t get too hung up on form. The three keys are maintaining an upright posture; taking short, relaxed strides; and keeping your feet low to the ground.

Going for the Goal

The beauty of walking and running is that you can do it casually, for fun, or you can make a sport of it. For instance, Kelson now competes on her school track team. “I don’t run to win gold medals,” she says. “Once in a while, I’ll surprise myself and do better than I thought I could, and that feels great, but I run for me.”

Kelson, Jacob, and Galloway all recommend setting realistic goals. Experts advise increasing your mileage no more than 10 percent from week to week. In other words, if you walked 10 blocks last week, ramp up to 11 blocks this week; don’t jump to 5 miles.

Probably the biggest obstacle to any kind of exercise is making it a habit. “The most common motivator,” says Galloway, “is running in a group.” Walking and running clubs lace up all across the country. Try Web sites such as www.thewalkingsite.com, www.usatf.org, or www.kidsrunning.com to find one near you. Whether your goal is to walk for half an hour or run a race, you can do it. Just start with one step.

GREEN FEET

Walking and running are easy on the environment–the only greenhouse gas those activities produce is carbon dioxide, and plants use that for food. The only equipment you really need is a good pair of sneakers, and even those can have a low Impact on the environment, depending on how you reuse them when you’re done. Donate shoes with good miles left in them to charity. Worn-out sneaks can be recycled and used In surfaces for playgrounds, tennis courts, running tracks, and other places. For more information, check out www.recycledrunners.com.

The Reluctant Runner

Jeff Galloway’s family moved to Atlanta when he was in eighth grade. He was out of shape, overweight, and unhappy. And Galloway’s new school required him to participate in a sport.

“I went to the lazy kids and asked what I should sign up for,” says Galloway. “They said the track coach was the most lenient, and you could run into the woods and hide out until practice was over.” That’s what Galloway did for a while, until some older kids asked him to run with them.

At first, he ran just minutes at a time. “The kids were funny. I wanted to keep up as long as I could to hear their next joke,” he says. As Galloway became able to run farther, his attitude, motivation, and energy level improved along with his physical fitness.

That initially reluctant runner went on to earn a spot on the 1972 U.S. Olympic track team. He has also completed more than 100 marathons. Now, Galloway writes about running and tries to help people reach their fitness goals. Check out www.jeffgalloway.com for tips and inspiration.

Before Stepping Out, Remember …

Get the nod. Clear exercise plans with your doctor if you have any health concerns.

Ease into a routine. Start by exercising every other day, and work up to five days a week.

Dress the part. Wear well-fitting, comfortable shoes custom-fit to your feet and gait.

Bundle up. Running in winter is possible! In cold weather, layering your clothes is smart. If it’s too cold or icy, try walking in a mall or jogging on a treadmill.

Choose the right path. Select safe, well-lit locations traveled by other walkers and runners, and avoid areas with heavy car traffic. Let your family know your route. It’s safest to run or walk with a friend.

Start and finish smart. If you’re a walker, warm up by walking slowly for three to five minutes. Warm up for a run with a brisk walk. Cool down for three minutes by slowing to a walk if you are running or slowing your pace if walking. While your muscles are still warm, stretch them slowly and gently-no bouncing!

Think About It …

What are some reasons it may be difficult for people to run or walk for fitness? Think of ways to minimize those obstacles.

Key Points

1. Walking and running are both environmentally friendly ways of getting exercise.

2. Walking is, for many people, the easiest activity to start with.

3. Many teens find jogging or running rewarding.

4. Some basic steps can help new walkers or runners get started.

Critical Thinking

What are some reasons it may be difficult for people to run or walk for fitness? Think of ways to minimize those obstacles.

Extension Activity

Find a local fund-raising event that involves walking or running. Organize a group to take part in it, and train together.

Running for brain power

Have you ever heard the phrase “jog your memory”? There’s more to it than just an old cliche. Imagine yourself taking a history test. You’ve studied for weeks and know the textbook backward and forward. You even know which page talks about the civil war. But then, your mind draws a blank. You can’t think of the answer to the next question. What do you do?

If you’re like most people, you’ll try different ways to “jog your memory.” You might try to picture the page and the words in your mind. You might try to think of something that’s associated with the same topic. You might even try to think of where you were when you studied that question. These are some ways to try to trigger a memory. But did you know that jogging (really running and working up a sweat) can actually benefit your memory as well as your intelligence?

Exercise stimulates the growth of developing brains. Dan Landers, Ph.D., looked at 13 different studies, and in each one, students under 16 years old showed the greatest link between exercise and brain power. In fact, these studies indicate that young people who exercise regularly become smarter than those who don’t. And that goes for older people too. Professor Brad Hatfield found that men who did aerobic activities (exercise that really gets your heart and lungs working for at least 20 minutes) did much better in math and in concentration than men who didn’t work out regularly.

More Oxygen, Higher IQ?

Now what about that history test that has you stumped? Dr. Roy J. Shephard found that young people who jog or do other aerobic activities for an hour each day did better on their school tests than those who were less active. Studies are now finding that there is a direct link between fitness and intelligence. So why is it that going out for a jog not only works your heart and lungs but your mind too? It’s simple: The answer is oxygen! When you expand the heart and lungs, your body is able to take in more oxygen. The brain depends on oxygen to function properly, and a healthy heart gets more oxygen to the brain. Robert Dustman, Ph.D., acknowledges this vital link to the brain: “Improve your heart and lungs and you get smarter.” Scott Hinkle and Bruce Tuckman tested students in fourth, fifth, sixth, and eighth grades. Half of each group ran for a semester and the other half didn’t. The kids who ran showed greater gains on their end-of-the-semester creativity tests than those who didn’t run.

So, when you can’t figure out the right answer for your history test, don’t get too bummed out. Go for a jog! Jogging actually makes you feel better. It can help clear your mind of worries, which can free you up to think of new strategies for problem solving. In fact, more doctors are becoming aware of the benefits jogging can have on changing moods. Some even prescribe exercise programs for people who are depressed. Higher amounts of the hormone called noradrenaline are found in people who run regularly. This hormone helps to put you in a better mood. Some people who once needed drugs to feel better are now exercising instead. Regular exercise is a natural, drug-free way to better health and self-esteem. When you’re feeling down, go for a jog and feel the difference!

If You Think You Can…

Picture yourself winning a race, making every free throw you attempt, kicking field goal after field goal. Does this sound impossible? Thinking it is actually the first step in doing it. On May 11, 1995, the American Academy of Neurology met in Seattle, Washington. Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone explained his research on mental practice. He studied three groups of people – one that practiced a physical skill, one that visualized themselves doing the activity, and one that practiced both physically and mentally. The group that had the best performance improvement after five days was the group that practiced the activity both physically and mentally. He found that this was true for any skill needing rehearsal, not just sports activities. If you are going to give a speech or perform music or drama, mental practice can make dramatic improvements.

A Win-Win Situation

Working the body to help the mind perform and working the mind to help the body is a win-win situation. Exercise helps you feel better about yourself and shapes up your body. Jogging can escalate your creativity, chase the blues away, and elevate your IQ. It’s a total body workout. Remember: “Practice makes perfect.” Imagine yourself running and doing well on a run. But don’t stop there. Imagine yourself doing other things too, and doing them well.

A walk in the park: savoring life’s small dramas, one lap at a time

Every morning, after I’ve worked at my desk for a couple of hours, I go walking in a nearby park. It’s a ritual I’ve followed for 14 years, ever since my husband, my son, and I moved to our Los Angeles house.

I smear on sunscreen and pull on a hat and sunglasses, and off I go for my usual four miles. Even if it rains (unless it’s torrential), I do 13 laps around a track that meanders along a playground lined with strollers, curves around a bank of jasmine past baseball diamonds and soccer fields, and slips coolly under pine, magnolia, and pittosporum trees.

This head-clearing march, which I do for obvious reasons (exercise, weight control), is also a never-ending source of midday entertainment. Do anything in one place long enough, and you come to know the regulars.

At my park, these run the gamut, from babies in slings to the ancient grandpa with a cane to other track rats like me. This latter group includes friends who meet to stretch, run, or walk their dogs (one guy jogs with a scrappy terrier, one girl trots with a stuffy, dignified Bouvier); an older woman with an ever-shifting cast of pals; a nonstop talker who, even alone, is constantly on her phone.

Over the months, I’ve watched a man with a gray crew cut and the name of a Russian professional boxer on his T-shirt whittle away an impressive gut. Another guy, who runs shirtless, a religious medal bouncing on his chest, is a lane hog: Running clockwise, counter to prevailing traffic, he claims the inside track; if someone’s on it, he bears down, muttering curses, till the person moves. Yet he, too, has dogs, a German shepherd and a poodle mix he brings for catch with a tennis ball–a sign he can’t be all bad.

Since I am in the land of cute, toned actors with iPods, the sights are sometimes unexpected: A line of people on Segway scooters may roll past on the sidewalk below the track. A group of joggers might appear in high-topped plastic boots with giant springs in place of soles.

Change comes to my park, too: I’ve seen children pushed in running strollers outgrow them, to be replaced by smaller siblings. I’ve watched a speed-walking couple, the woman in heart-patterned pajama pants, suddenly break into a fight, departing in different directions.

One girl in a bandanna used to regularly meet a guy who didn’t appear to notice what was obvious to me–her painful crush on him. They haven’t been back in a while.

Last week, though, my cloak of walker’s anonymity was lifted when someone signaled that she’d noticed me.

“I don’t mean to interrupt,” she said shyly–a slim, familiar–looking walker with a ponytail and shorts–“but I recognized your hat. I’ve seen you here for years, since I first came with my baby. I used to think, Wow, look at her. She’s so good; she totally works exercise into her day. Then it dawned on me: If I’m seeing her, I’m here, too; I can work this into my day. I’ve lost 30 pounds because of you. I just wanted you to know.”

I blushed and beamed. I told her she looked terrific–she did–and then I pushed off. I still had three more laps to go.

30 days to a beach-ready body

No false promises: You will have to work a little harder. Only for a month, though, with moves that go right for your trouble spots.

If baggy T-shirts or cover-ups look like your best beach-wear options, we’ve got a shape-up plan that might change your thinking. Fact is, if you start now and can devote about 30 minutes a day, six days a week, for the next month, it’s possible to slim and sculpt your stomach, legs, butt, arms, and back by bathing suit season.

The secret is to up your muscle-to-fat ratio, says Jim Clarry, a trainer at New York’s David Barton Gym. “Each pound of muscle can burn 50 calories a day,” says Clarry. “And that leads to fat loss.” Not to mention a toned body. Expect to replace about four pounds of fat with muscle – and lose up to an inch and a half in your hips, thighs, and waist – with this plan. How it works:

Part 1 Do 20 to 30 minutes of weight training three times a week (skipping a day in between so your muscles can recover).

Part 2 On alternating days (three times a week total), do 20 to 30 minutes al aerobic exercise. Choose fast walking,jogging, biking, aerobics, a treadmill – whatever workout gets your heart beating fast yet doesn’t leave you too breathless to talk comfortably.

Part 3 Eat sensibly. Cut back on foods that stimulate the appetite, such as simple sugars (cookies and cake, for example). Also, avoid eating saturated fats (found in meat, butter, cheese) and have your fill of low-fat, fiber-packed foods (vegetables, for example). Because fiber isn’t absorbed by the body, it helps you fell full without adding calories.

Part 4 To maintain your loon look throughout the summer (and beyond), you can cut back your workout schedule to two or three times a week, but you’ll need to do both the strength-training routine and 15 minutes of intense aerobic exercise (jogging, jumping rope) in each session. (The cumulative effect ups your body’s fat-burning potential.)

The Toners

Do the strength-training moves that follow using a set of three-to five-pound hand weights. (To choose, hold a five-pound weight out to your side for ten seconds; if it’s just too heavy to handle, try the same test with a four-pound weight, then, if necessary, a three-pound weight.) Count to 4 slowly during the first part of each exercise, and count to 4 again as you return to the starting position. Each time you work out, add one count (so that by the third time you do these moves, you’ll count to 6, and so on until you reach 16). Note: If you’re doing either the toning or aerobic exercises first thing in the morning, warm up your muscles by jogging in place for a few minutes.

The squat (works butt, thigh, and hip muscles): Grasping a weight in each hand, stand with feet shoulder-width apart, arms at sides. Squat down so knees are directly over toes, keeping your butt out. The first day you do the move, count to 4 as you go down and again as you rise back up. Then, each time afterward, add one count until you reach 16. Do ten repetitions. TIP: Keep your shoulders back and chest up.

Stiff-legged lift (works butt and back of legs): Stand with knees slightly bent, hands at sides. Bend forward as far as your hamstrings (back-of-thigh muscles) allow, keeping your back flat and heels on the ground. Return to starting position. Do ten repetitions. TIP: Keeping your chest up will help your back stay flat.

Chest fly (works pectoral muscles, which support the bustline): Lie on floor with arms out to sides, hands grasping weights, palms toward feet. Hold lower arms and end of each weight just above the floor. With elbows slightly bent, lift arms up and toward center until the weights nearly touch; return to starting position. Do eight repetitions. TIP: Slightly arch your lower back to help keep your chest up during the move.

Side lifts (shapes shoulders): Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, arms at sides, palms facing body. Lift both arms slowly until they are parallel to the floor, pause briefly, then return to starting position. Do eight repetitions. TIP: Keep knees and elbows relaxed.

Back row (creates a sexy back by working the “lats”): Stand with knees slightly bent and feet shoulder-width apart. Lean forward, placing right hand on a chair seat so that torso is nearly parallel to the floor. Hold left arm to side with dumbbell in hand. Pull left elbow up the side of your body (as if starting a lawn mower), hold briefly, then go back down. Do eight repetitions. Repeat with opposite side. TIP: Your elbow should be slightly higher than your torso before you hold the position.

Tricep extension (firms back of upper arms): Sit in a chair and, with weight in hand, hold left arm straight up above your head, palm facing in. Slowly bend your left elbow to bring the weight down as far as it will go (without forcing it) and then back up. Do eight repetitions. Repeat with other arm. TIP: Your upper arm should not move. If necessary, stabilize it by reaching around front of body and grasping the arm with your free hand.

Bicep curl (shapes and strengthens front of upper arms): Stand with arms at sides, palms facing forward. Bend your arms at the elbow to lift the weights up near your chest. Return to starting position. Do eight repetitions. TIP: Arms should remain still from elbow to shoulder.

Reverse ab crunch (works entire midsection): Lie on your back with knees and feet together, thighs perpendicular to the floor, and knees fully bent. Press lower back into the floor, place arms at sides and palms on floor, and rest head and neck on a small pillow. Press palms into floor and move knees toward collarbone, which will cause hips to elevate. Contract abs as you move pelvis toward head, and hold for the duration of the count. Then, slowly lower pelvis. Do eight repetitions. TIP: Keep middle of back on floor the whole time – only your butt and hips should lift.

A WEEK AT A GLANCE

Although our shape-up plan requires you to carve out time from your no doubt crowded schedule, a few shortcuts may help. For instance, although it’s best to do all eight strength-training exercises in a row (to give muscles more of a workout), once a week you can break them up into two groups of four. And if you have to cut back, skip the tricep and bicep exercises. (The reason: The muscles they tone will got a partial workout through some of the other exercises.) As for aerobic exercise, try to work activities into your everyday routine. Walk (or bike or skate) a bit farther each time – in the sum amount of time.

Monday

Set your alarm earlier and do all eight strength-training exercises as you listen to the news. (Remember to warm your muscles by jogging in place first.)

Tuesday

Go for a 30-minute walk with friends at lunch. Or if you have a treadmill, use it for half an hour while your husband makes the salad and sets the table for dinner.

Wednesday

Do the first four weight exercises as soon as you wake up (keep your weights beside your bed as a reminder). Do the other half after the kids are in bed.

Thursday

Take an aerobics or spinning class (or pop in an exercise video at home); motivation may be flagging, and it helps to have someone else set the pace. Or spend 20 minutes on a stationary bike, followed by 5 minutes each of jogging in place and jumping rope. Do before or right after work.

Friday

Day off. (Note: Schedule your weekly break on whatever day is typically busiest.)

Saturday

Do all eight strength-training exercises while the kids are busy watching cartoons.

Sunday

Push yourself a little harder. Go bike riding or Roller-blading with the kids (make sure you get in 30 minutes of high-intensity activity) or take a 30-minute jog.

Biking, swimming, running are no sweat

If Ronald Rich’s garage – complete with piles of old bicycle wheels, three wall-mounted racing bikes, and drawers full of bike shoes, gloves and water bottles – doesn’t hint at an obsession, leave it to his nightstand.

Where most would have an alarm clock and book, the CEO of Ronald B. Rich & Associates in Farmington Hills has two new bike inner tube boxes, and a pair of jogging shoes is not far off.

“I love it and I need it every day,” said Rich, 50, of his triathlon-inspired workouts in biking, swimming and jogging. The collection and construction attorney balances his 50- to 60-hour work weeks with training from his West Bloomfield Township home.

Rich used to be a competitive runner. But after hurting his back, he has dedicated his early mornings and late evenings to 50-mile bike rides, shorter runs and one-mile swims, all in the name of triathlons.

For more than 20 years Rich has raced in triathlons across the country. In his home office, a wall of old newspaper clippings is proof. So is a throw made of old race T-shirts hanging in his basement, as are the race medals hanging from a light next to his bed.

But for the unabashedly active Rich to successfully compete and race, weekdays are regimented: a workout, work, dinner, more work, and finally, another workout.

Days start at 6:30 a.m., with either a bike ride or a jog.

He rides 25 to 40 miles from his home twice a week on his ultralight Calfee racing bike. On Saturdays, he lengthens the trip to as much as 50 miles and couples it with a swim or jog. On Sundays, Rich joins a group of about 15-25 that treks from West Bloomfield Township to Fenton, Milford and Ann Arbor, sometimes riding 75 miles.

Twice a week he jogs between 5 and 8 miles, and returns home by 7:30 a.m.

At night, after returning from his office around 7:15 p.m. and eating dinner with his family, then working in his home office for a couple hours, Rich dives into his backyard pool around 10 p.m.

The pool is his backyard haven.

 

It measures 20 yards from corner to corner and has a right-angle shape. He swims 80-100 laps, about a mile, using a buoy to isolate his upper body after biking or jogging in the morning. He says the lights and stars help him calm down after the daily rigors of collection law.

“Every family should have a pool because it just creates a close family unit,” he said. “My family has been so supportive with everything I’ve done – they’ve been great.”

Rich packs his running shoes for every trip, business or pleasure.

“I can sit in a lawn chair for 30 minutes, but then I have to jump in the pool,” he said, recalling a family vacation to Aruba two years ago, when he ran every day and couldn’t sit next to the pool without an urge to do laps.

“People say I’m hyper. … I’m active,” he said. “When you’re somewhere around the world, and you’re not going to be back there again, you have to see everything. With running, you do see everything.”

Over the summer, Rich competed in a triathlon in Ohio, and other races.

“My most relaxing time of the day is when I’m working out,” he said. “No phones – it’s my time to get away. To me, this is easy.”

* * *

My Workout

* Who he is: Ronald Rich, 50, CEO of Ronald B. Rich & Associates, Farmington Hills.

* When he works out: Usually in morning, 6:30 a.m., seven days a week.

* Where he works out: Home gym and pool, Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield Township during winter to swim.

* His routine: Bikes 25-75 miles three to four times a week; runs 5 to 8 miles two to four times a week; swims one mile in pool every day; sit-ups and stretching before bed every night.

* Fitness tip: “Everyone should do some type of physical activity daily, depending on their capability. I don’t suggest a vigorous routine immediately, but you will find after time that the amount of exercise can, and will, increase to a comfortable level.”