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How to lose post-baby weight - by walking

You don't need a fancy exercise plan to start shifting the post-baby pounds, simply getting out for good long walks will do both you and baby good

Posted: 12 January 2010
by Maria Muennich

Why walking?
Walking is an incredibly flexible form of exercise that's very easy to fit into your everyday activities, doesn't require any special equipment or gym trips, is completely free and can be a very efficient way of burning fat. What's more, you can take your baby along with you and you'll burn up even more calories by pushing the pram or carrying your little one as you walk.

And while it's one of the simpler forms of exercise, regular walking can bring a whole string of other health benefits. It can: lower the risk of heart disease, improve your circulation, help lessen lower back pain, lower your blood pressure, lower cholesterol, increase bone density (so help prevent osteoporosis) raise your immune levels, increase your energy levels, and help relieve stress and they symptoms of depression as well as burn calories. This is true whether your regular walking involves traipsing up the side of hills or just walking around the supermarket. And that's the real beauty of walking, once you're in the habit of walking it doesn't really feel like exercise at all.

So what other reasons do you need?

How will walking help me lose weight?
Whatever form of exercise you choose to lose weight, long and steady is more effective than short and intense. If you exercise for at least twenty minutes at moderate pace your body is sent signals that it needs to provide energy for sustained exercise and so dips into your fat stores for energy. If you jump on the treadmill and go hell for leather for eight or ten minutes you may feel more virtuous, but your body recognises that this is short-term activity and will burn body sugars (carbohydrates) rather than fat. So, when you walk for at least half an hour at a brisk pace it can be far more effective at fat-burning than a short and sweaty session in the gym.

How to lose weight through walking
Frequency and intensity
When it comes to losing weight, all forms of walking count but you need to make a commitment to regular, moderate walking to really see the benefits on your body shape. A brisk walk of between thirty minutes and an hour, several times a week, will be enough to have an impact: You can burn up to around 320 calories from a brisk half-hour walk. And the more regularly you walk, the better. If walking is your only form of exercise, try to aim for about an hour of walking in total every day which you can break it up into several shorter chunks.

In terms of pace, the most efficient fat-burning speed will be when you walk at a pace that requires effort to sustain, but where you can still comfortably hold a conversation rather than speaking between gasps. If you want to get technical about it, perhaps you already have a heart rate monitor you want to use, then you should be aiming to walk at 60-70% of your maximum heart rate.

If you can include hills in your walks you'll be exercising at a higher intensity. And if you really want to make it a full work-out then you could work your arms by pumping them as you walk (this is what all those strange Nordic walking sticks are all about) or by carrying light handweights, in which case it's best to leave your baby at home...

Set goals
Setting realistic goals can help you keep track of how much you're managing to walk and give you motivation. It's best to start off modestly and then set your aims higher as you succeed, setting unrealistic expectations can be very demotivating. At the simplest level you can set your goals using time spent walking, or you can factor in distance as well. Some people may find using a pedometer (a gadget that counts your steps) a useful motivational tool - try building up to 10,000 steps a day.

Don't expect to see the weight drop off dramatically with walking to lose weight. Although when you're committed to regular walking and also eat healthily you can lose weight remarkably quickly, this is all about steady weight loss and the aim is to change your habits to improve your general fitness and health as well as to lose the extra weight you're carrying.

Total beginner?
Build up slowly
If you usually walk as far as the bus stop, or worse, the car door, then walking might not come naturally to you at all and if you're not already in the habit of walking then you'll want to start by building up steadily to walks of this intensity and duration.

Wear the right shoes
If you're planning on a good walk it's important that you choose suitable footwear if you don't want to end up with sore feet and blisters and vowing that you'll not walk further than the end of the road ever again. You'll need a good fitting pair of flat shoes without a high arch (like the arch that many running shoes have) that leave you enough room for your feet as they swell a little during exercise, but don't rub.

Every step counts
While longish regular walks are the key to weight loss, simply increasing the distance you travel by foot every day will help you get and stay in shape and bring important health benefits. So if you usually only walk as far as the car door, here are some simple changes to your daily habits that can significantly increase the distance you walk day-to-day.

  • Change where you park the car - Are you one of those people who drives around looking for the parking spot nearest the supermarket doors? Time to make a deliberate decision to park further away and walk that bit further. It won't usually take any longer as you don't waste time looking around for a spot. If you're shopping in the city try parking somewhere central and then walking from shop to shop, rather than taking the car from door to door.

  • Choose to walk - If you stop and think about it many of the shorter trips you habitually make by car or public transport may be perfectly walkable. Sometimes it might even be quicker to walk than to wait for the bus or find a parking space. Try walking your shortest trips first to see how easy it is and then save car trips for when you have to cart around a heavy load. If you make a longer journey try parking a little further away than usual at your desitnation, or getting off the bus a stop or two earlier.

  • At the playground - If you're taking a toddler or older child to the playground you can use the time to walk around the playground or be active with your children, rather than sitting on a bench or standing around for a chat.

  • Take the stairs - Obviously parents laden down with a baby and shopping are going to call the lift, but if you're not carrying too much then why not walk up the stairs, rather than taking the lift?

  • Meet friends for walks - Rather than meeting at home or in a cafe why not meet other mums out and about for walks in the park or out in the countryside where you can all get some fresh air and exercise - you can always round it off with a little cafe time.

  • In the office - If you're back at work, try getting up from your desk every hour and walking around for a few minutes, or go over to your colleague's desk rather than sending them that email. Use your lunch time to go for a brisk twenty-minute walk.

  • Pace on the phone - If you've got a long phone call to make why not make double use of the time by walking around the house as you talk.

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