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.
• 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.
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© 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.