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Get In Gear for Walking

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Walking may be the simplest and most popular physical activity. It's easy, great for your overall health and you can do it for free in a wide variety of locations.

Even so, today you'll see all sorts of gadgets being marketed that claim to make walking even more effective. Are these gizmos helpful or just hype? Read on to find out:

• Ankle weights: Don't use them (or wrist weights)—they can strain your joints, arms, and legs. Plus, they slow your pace.

• Hand weights: Holding hand weights while you walk can burn a few more calories, but they may alter your walking posture, which can cause physical problems. They also increase blood pressure, which can be dangerous for those with cardiovascular disease. If you choose to use hand weights while walking, keep them light (one or two pounds) and use them only for a mile or so. It's better to workout with hand weights indoors, separate from your walking routine.
• Heart rate monitor: It can be tricky to achieve the exercise pace that's right for you. The American Heart Association advises staying within your target heart zone—which is 50 to 85 percent of your maximum heart rate. To achieve this while working out, you can take your pulse and do the math or wear a heart rate monitor. This device—models sell for about $60 and up—helps you track your workout intensity, usually by sending signals from a chest belt to a watch.
• Pedometer: Research shows that wearing a simple pedometer clipped to a belt or waistline encourages people to walk more (85% of those studied were women), resulting in greatly increased physical activity and significant decreases in blood pressure and body mass index, a measure of healthful weight. For $10 to $20, this device may be your second most helpful piece of walking gear, next to a good pair of athletic shoes.
• Resistance belt: You wear this belt around your waist and pull on resistance cords as you walk. The movement works your arms and increases aerobic effects, although it might take a bit of practice to get the rhythm right. Belts cost around $80.
• Walking poles: These poles are becoming increasingly popular because they can help you burn 23 percent or more calories. Also called Nordic walking poles, they sell for $70 and up. It's helpful to take a few lessons in proper technique (some stores and instructors provide these free when you buy the poles).
• Weighted vest: You can adjust the weight in these vests to build your results. Newer models, available for about $60, are made from comfortable materials. Studies with postmenopausal women show that weighted vests are effective in reducing body fat and preventing bone loss.

Evans BW, Potteiger JA, Bray MC, Tuttle JL. "Metabolic and Hemodynamic Responses to Walking with Hand Weights in Older Individuals." Medicine, Science and Sports Exercise. 1994;26(8):1047-1052.

Bravata DM, Smith-Spangler C, Sundaram V, et al. "Using Pedometers to Increase Physical Activity and Improve Health: A Systematic Review." Journal of the American Medical Association. 2007;298(19):2296-2304.

Porcari JP, Hendrickson TL, Walter PR, et al. "The Physiological Responses to Walking With and Without Power Poles on Treadmill Exercise." Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport. 1997;68(2):161-166.

Klentrou P, Slack J, Roy B, Ladouceur M. "Effects of Exercise Training with Weighted Vests on Bone Turnover and Isokinetic Strength in Postmenopausal Women." Journal of Aging and Physical Activity. 2007;15(3):287-299.

Snow CM, Shaw JM, Winters KM, Witzke KA. "Long-term Exercise Using Weighted Vests Prevents Hip Bone Loss In Postmenopausal Women." The Journals of Gerontology. Series A, Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. 2000;55(9):M487-49.
© 2008 National Women's Health Resource Center, Inc. (NWHRC) All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from the NWHRC. 1-877-986-9472 (tollfree). On the Web at: www.healthywomen.org.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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