Walking just may be the best form of exercise around. Find out why, discover walking groups and hot spots, and meet some walkers whoâ€™ve found that pounding the pavement has changed their lives.
We hate to argue with the Boss. But sorry, Springsteen, not everyone is born to run. For many, walking provides the perfect fitness alternativeâ€”and in case you hadnâ€™t noticed, lots of Sacramentans are doing it.
â€œWhen I see people running down the road, I think, â€˜That doesnâ€™t look funâ€”why are they doing that?â€™â€ says Cathleen Corr of Rancho Murieta, who caught the walking bug in 2003 and completed her first marathon last year, at 50. â€œFor me, walking is more fun.â€
Simple and cheapâ€”all you need is a good pair of shoesâ€”walking can be done just about anytime and anywhere, making it doable for those who canâ€™t afford (or canâ€™t stand) the gym, lead Ã¼berbusy lives or whose joints canâ€™t handle high-impact sports, such as running.
That last bit applies especially to those in midlife or older, says David Roberts, M.D., medical director of the Sutter Heart & Vascular Institute.
â€œRunning is something you always need to do cautiously, but especially in mid-age and beyond, because thereâ€™s a good chance youâ€™re going to injure yourself from a musculoskeletal standpoint,â€ says Roberts. â€œWalking is a wonderful alternative.â€
Of course, you canâ€™t just saunter along and expect to reap the many benefits of walking, which include everything from reducing â€œbadâ€ cholesterol to losing weight, having a healthier heart and, potentially, a longer life. You need to move at a moderate pace and â€œwith purpose,â€ as Dede Lockmiller, certified personal trainer and group fitness director at Capital Athletic Club, puts it.
But itâ€™s not all about speed, warns Lockmiller, whose credentials include teaching Nordic walking (yes, with poles, like Nordic skiing). Form is important, too.
â€œYou can walk along and have your gut hanging out, and it wonâ€™t do anything for you,â€ says Lockmiller. â€œKeep your core tight, your body relaxed and maintain your posture. Youâ€™ll get more power that way, and youâ€™ll use muscles that you wonâ€™t otherwise use.â€
As with any other exercise program, newbies should start with â€œbaby stepsâ€ and build up slowly, says Lockmiller. Ultimately, she says, people who choose walking as their only form of exercise should shoot for 40 to 60 minutes, three to four times a week, for maximum benefit. Still, any amount of exercise is better than none. â€œEverything is cumulative,â€ says Lockmiller. â€œEven short intervals will add up.â€
But before starting any exercise program, get a checkup, urges Robertsâ€”especially if youâ€™re middle-aged (there we go again), have been sedentary or have risk factors for heart disease. And donâ€™t forget: Exercise is only half the equation.
â€œRemember, you canâ€™t exercise your weight off if you eat too much,â€ says Roberts. â€œEat less and keep active.â€ Amen.
Top Spots To Walk
With its mostly flat landscape, luscious parks and riverside trails, the Sacramento region is a walkerâ€™s dream. Donâ€™t believe us? Check out these popular spots.
âž² American River Bike Trail (aka Jedediah Smith Memorial Trail): With nary a car in sight, this spectacularly scenic 32-mile trail runs from downtown Sacramento to Folsom, offering walkers a way to get away from it all without leaving town. Observe good walker etiquetteâ€”and stay safeâ€”by staying off to the left shoulder of the trail on the dirt path, when accessible, and walk single file when necessary. You can download a map at www.msa2.saccounty.net/parks.
âž² City Walks Sacramento: Rather see city sights than nature trails? The City Walks Sacramento program offers downtown walks on the 10th of every month. All walks take off from the west steps of the state Capitol. This monthâ€™s destination: The Governorâ€™s Mansion State Historic Park. Visit parks.ca.gov/?page_id=23997.
âž² Elk Grove Regional Park (Elk Grove-Florin Road at East Stockton Boulevard, Elk Grove): Towering oaks and a lake are just a few of the pretty views youâ€™ll take in as you parade around this park, adding about 1 Â½ miles to your pedometer. To delve a bit deeper into nature, try Elk Groveâ€™s 2 Â¼-mile Laguna Creek Parkway trail. For information and a downloadable map: yourcsd.com/parks/trails.asp.
âž² McKinley ParkÂ (Alhambra Boulevard at H Street, Sacramento): A trek around this gem of a park offers so much visual splendorâ€”a pond, a rose garden, gorgeous homesâ€”that you wonâ€™t even notice you just chalked up Â¾ mile. If you circle the adjacent small park (with the Shepard Garden and Arts Center), youâ€™ll add another Â¼ mile.
âž² UC Davis Arboretum (at the south edge of the campus, Davis): With a 3 Â½-mile pedestrian path, this gorgeous arboretum offers water views (it runs along the banks of the old north fork of Putah Creek), birds, plants, gardens and trees galore, including a redwood grove. For directions and parking options: arboretum.ucdavis.edu.
âž² William Land Park (Sutterville Road at Freeport Boulevard, Sacramento): Home to the Sacramento Zoo and Fairytale Town, a golf course, a pond and tons of trees, this local landmark is a fab place to walk. If you take the loop around the park, itâ€™s just less than two miles.
Cathleen Corr, Rancho Murieta
Her story: â€œI started walking back in 2003 because I had gained quite a bit of weight. I knew I didnâ€™t like running, so I decided to power walk. I put myself on a low-carb diet and lost 34 pounds over about a four-month period. Iâ€™ve basically kept it off except for gaining a little bit back two years ago when there was a lot of stress in my family. But Iâ€™m still power walking and feeling great at my current weight. If I feel good and my clothes are fitting, thatâ€™s all Iâ€™m concerned about.â€
Walking routine: At least four days a week, 30 to 60 minutes, some-times alone and sometimes with others; sometimes outdoors and sometimes on a treadmill at the gym.
Biggest achievement: Power walked the California International Marathon after turning 50 last year. â€œItâ€™s such a validation. I have three girls, and I can out-walk them!â€
On staying motivated: â€œThe best thing was joining Sacfit (walking club). Itâ€™s a lot of fun. My daughters are another huge motivation for me. Whenever I start to talk myself out of it [walking], I remind myself how good Iâ€™m feeling.â€
Barb Levin, Davis
Her story: â€œI had kids and, for years, let myself go and was â€˜super momâ€™â€”ignored myself and got really out of shape. In my early 50s, I was diagnosed with dangerously high blood pressure, and I got scared, really scared, and it was a kick in the butt. After the diagnosis it was like, â€˜I have to change my life.â€™â€
Goals sheâ€™s met: â€œMy goal was to get healthy, not to lose weight. I make it a point not to weigh myself, and my doctor doesnâ€™t weigh meâ€”we have an agreementâ€”but theyâ€™re guessing I lost 75 to 80 pounds over a period of nine months. I did become very conscious of what I ate, stayed away from processed foods and went with healthy, natural foods. My blood pressure has also come way down, though Iâ€™m on a low-dose medication. It was up to 200 systolic (top number), and now Iâ€™m running in the low 100s.â€
Her routine: Levin, 59, walk-runs three days a week and walks the other days. She aims for six miles a day except when marathon training, when she steps it up. (She runs a group for marathon walkers.)
On the benefits of walking: â€œFor me, the biggest thing exercise does is to lift your mood. The way it makes you feel is the reason to do it.â€
Elmer (â€œPeteâ€) Petersen, Tahoe Park
His story: â€œAbout 5 or 6 years ago, somebody put a notice on my door about a local walking group (Neighborhood Walk), so we joined up. Itâ€™s a nice group of people, including a couple people from our church group. My wife canâ€™t do the walks anymore because of a medical problem, but I try to walk six days a week. I walk with another gentlemanâ€”heâ€™s 86â€”four days a week. We were walking a little over three miles, but he asked if we could shave off a lap.â€
Health benefits: â€œI feel better all over. About four years ago, we were planning to go on a cruise and I upped my walking schedule to maybe five or six miles a day and cut back on eating, and I lost about 20 pounds before we went, though I still need to learn to cut back [on food]. My cholesterol has come down. It used to be in the low 300s, maybe 315, and last time it was checked it was about 157. But I am taking a cholesterol pill, so I think itâ€™s a little bit of bothâ€”medicine and walking.â€
How walking has changed this 79-year-oldâ€™s life: â€œItâ€™s good for my social life. You meet more people because we meet every day in [Tahoe Park] and chat a little bit. Itâ€™s enjoyable.â€
Jonna Edwinson, Sacramento
Her story: â€œI started walking in high school as a way to get my mom to start moving. She wasnâ€™t motivated, so I started walking around the track with her. She and I were walking partners all through my high school years. Iâ€™ve been walking ever since, partly as a supplement to everything else I do (sheâ€™s a fitness instructor) and partly to make sure Bella, my golden retriever, gets out every day.â€
Her routine: Edwinson, 24, power walks twice a day at least five days a week, once in the morning and again in the evening. Logs a mile or two each time.
Why walking, not running: â€œIâ€™m not a runner. I tried running, and it just killed my joints. My hips, back, everything was killing me. My body was not used to that hard pounding, that high impact. You can get the same benefits from walking as you can with running, but without the injuries.â€
What it does for her that other workouts donâ€™t: â€œNot only does it burn calories, but itâ€™s easy on the joints. It improves my mood and reduces stress, especially after a long day of work. Itâ€™s still one of the best forms of exercise there is.â€
Join the Club
âž² Marathon Walkers: Though primarily intended forâ€”you guessed itâ€”marathoners-in-training, this Davis-based group is free and open to anyone up for long-distance walking at a brisk pace. For information, e-mail Barb Levin at Barb7750@yahoo.com.
âž² Neighborhood Walk: Want to walk in your neighborhood, but donâ€™t want to go it alone? The City of Sacramento offers walking groups in a variety of locations, from Oak Park to South Natomasâ€”and itâ€™s free. The program is part of the 50+ Wellness Program, but people of all ages are welcome, says program coordinator Kimberly Metcalf. For information: cityofsacramento.org/olderadults (click â€œ50+Wellnessâ€) or (916) 808-1593.
âž² Sacfit: Known as the â€œfunâ€ running and walking club, director Ken Press says he started Sacfit after being in a number of groups â€œand realizing there was a void of fun, laid-back clubs.â€ Walkers of all levels are welcome, and training is individualized. Cost is $85 for new members for a 16-week training session. Visit sacfit.com or call (916) 722-3481.
âž² Sacramento Walking Sticks: â€œFun, friendship and fitnessâ€ are the three Fâ€™s of this noncompetitive, go-at-your-own pace group, which boasts 330 members and is the second largest Volkssport club in the U.S., according to local president Barbara Nuss. Annual fee: $8 per individual. Visit sacramentowalkingsticks.org or call (916) 283-4650.
âž² Stroller Strides: Power walking while pushing a stroller is part of the fitness program offered by Stroller Strides, where working out and spending time with baby go hand-in-hand. To find a group in your area, visit strollerstrides.net and use the program locator. (Itâ€™s a national franchise with a number of local spinoffs. The first walk is free; prices range thereafter.)