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  • Stepping Out

  • The oldest form of transportation is gaining fame as the trendiest form of exercise. Most health professionals recommend a good old-fashioned walk for just about whatever ails you. There's no training required, no fancy spandex outfits or expensive equipment. All you need is a well-built pair of shoes. A few of walking's wonders include its ability to:

    • Raise good cholesterol levels to protect the heart and circulatory system.
    • Boost the immune system and hormone levels.
    • Strengthen bones, warding off osteoporosis.
    • Lessen anxiety and tension.
    • Help control weight.
    • Increase energy.
    • Promote good sleep habits.

    While any of the above makes a new pair of sneakers a sound investment, the one that's getting the most attention is walking for weight loss, which of course contributes to overall health. "It works in several ways," says Bess Marcus, PhD, at The Miriam Hospital's division of behavioral and preventive medicine. "Regular walking helps people lose weight and keep it off by burning calories. It also helps control appetite, relieves stress and improves metabolism. And last but not least, walking gives people a confidence boost. They're doing something positive for themselves."

    You can burn up to 300 calories in a steady three-mile walk. If committing to 30-45 minutes a day sounds like a lot, break up the time. For example, you could take three 15-minute walks on one day. Take a 1-hour hike on Saturday and relax on Sunday. Any combination works as long as it all adds up by week's end. "Studies prove that every little bit helps," says Rena R. Wing, PhD, professor of psychiatry at Brown University. "This is a case, however, where more is certainly better." Wing compiled and maintains the National Weight Control Registry, a database of more than 2,500 people who have lost weight and kept it off. "Most of them attest to the fact that exercise is key in maintaining their weight loss," says Wing, who is currently conducting weight loss research at The Miriam.

    Walking is for everyone. Start out slowly and build up to a brisk gait. Strolling or window shopping may be enjoyable, but won't get the job done, so keep up the pace.