Walking and Running are simple, green, cheap routes to fitness

A step in the right direction can literally begin with just that–a step. Just put on a pair of reliable shoes, and place one foot in front of the other. You can walk, jog, or run in the direction of better physical and mental health.

Moving Ahead

There are many reasons for pounding the pavement. For starters, you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to take to the streets; anyone can do it. There’s no need to shell out for balls, rackets, skis, clubs, or other expensive equipment that could end up forgotten in your closet or make their way to a landfill if you don’t stick with the activity. And on an environmentally conscious level, your feet don’t burn fossil fuels. (See “Green Feet.”) Setting them in motion can improve not only your scenery, but your heart, lungs, bones, joints, and even mood.

Teens need at least an hour of daily physical activity, and aerobic exercise should make up most of it. Aerobic exercise–such as walking, jogging, or running at a steady pace–slowly boosts your body’s need for oxygen. It makes your heart and lungs work harder, which gradually strengthens them. Regular exercise lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, reduces your risk of diabetes and some cancers, and helps you maintain a healthy weight. And if all those physical benefits don’t cheer you up, consider this: Aerobic exercise triggers your brain to release chemicals called endorphins into your bloodstream. They block pain and anxiety and lift your spirits naturally.

Walk This Way

Walking may be the easiest exercise to take up. You already have the skills. Step outside and pick up your feet. If it’s raining or snowing, walk in a shopping mall or make tracks inside your house. Walk 10 or 15 minutes at a comfortable pace. When that begins to feel easy, speed up a bit and walk a few minutes longer. Even if you don’t have a big chunk of time, a few short walks each day can provide many of the same health advantages as one long trek.

Kelson G., a high school junior, sometimes walks with her morn for exercise. In 2009, they hiked 34 miles in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park. You may not be ready for that kind of mileage, but see whether you can gradually work your way up to walking 30 to 60 minutes a day. Because walking is something you can do on your own, it’s an exercise you’re more likely to continue after high school and throughout your life.

Fun Run

Though she walks and runs now, Kelson didn’t get much exercise before joining the Nittany Track and Field Club in State College, Pa., three years ago. She felt very slow starting out, and she says “being bad” at running made it tempting to quit. “My dad helped me see that I was healthier than I would be if I wasn’t doing it at all,” Kelson adds.

Likewise, Jacob P., 15, wasn’t doing much physical activity when he decided to start running to get in shape for baseball tryouts at his Las Cruces, N.M., high school. His goal was simple: Keep moving forward. “When I cramped up,” Jacob says, “I walked until I could run again. I built my endurance.”

That’s what Jeff Galloway, a columnist for Runner’s World magazine and a former Olympic runner, advises. Want to get the pick-me-up of a good workout while reducing the risk of aches, pains, or injuries? Try alternating periods of running with short walk breaks, Galloway suggests. As you build up your stamina, gradually add minutes to your running time and decrease your walking. But remember: Any time you need to stop running and walk, do it. You never have to eliminate walk breaks.

If you are looking for something between walking and running, try jogging. What’s the difference between joggingand running? “None,” according to Galloway. It’s all about moving forward.

Jacob defines jogging as “a more relaxed pace.” He goes 1 to 3 miles every day after school. “I usually jog the first half,” Jacob says, “then I run faster on the way back.”

He really looks forward to his runs. “It gives me a chance to reflect,” notes Jacob. “I get rid of the stress of the day.” He also credits running with helping him increase his energy and drop extra weight.

And no matter how you are moving forward, don’t worry about whether you’re doing it right. Galloway doesn’t get too hung up on form. The three keys are maintaining an upright posture; taking short, relaxed strides; and keeping your feet low to the ground.

Going for the Goal

The beauty of walking and running is that you can do it casually, for fun, or you can make a sport of it. For instance, Kelson now competes on her school track team. “I don’t run to win gold medals,” she says. “Once in a while, I’ll surprise myself and do better than I thought I could, and that feels great, but I run for me.”

Kelson, Jacob, and Galloway all recommend setting realistic goals. Experts advise increasing your mileage no more than 10 percent from week to week. In other words, if you walked 10 blocks last week, ramp up to 11 blocks this week; don’t jump to 5 miles.

Probably the biggest obstacle to any kind of exercise is making it a habit. “The most common motivator,” says Galloway, “is running in a group.” Walking and running clubs lace up all across the country. Try Web sites such as www.thewalkingsite.com, www.usatf.org, or www.kidsrunning.com to find one near you. Whether your goal is to walk for half an hour or run a race, you can do it. Just start with one step.

GREEN FEET

Walking and running are easy on the environment–the only greenhouse gas those activities produce is carbon dioxide, and plants use that for food. The only equipment you really need is a good pair of sneakers, and even those can have a low Impact on the environment, depending on how you reuse them when you’re done. Donate shoes with good miles left in them to charity. Worn-out sneaks can be recycled and used In surfaces for playgrounds, tennis courts, running tracks, and other places. For more information, check out www.recycledrunners.com.

The Reluctant Runner

Jeff Galloway’s family moved to Atlanta when he was in eighth grade. He was out of shape, overweight, and unhappy. And Galloway’s new school required him to participate in a sport.

“I went to the lazy kids and asked what I should sign up for,” says Galloway. “They said the track coach was the most lenient, and you could run into the woods and hide out until practice was over.” That’s what Galloway did for a while, until some older kids asked him to run with them.

At first, he ran just minutes at a time. “The kids were funny. I wanted to keep up as long as I could to hear their next joke,” he says. As Galloway became able to run farther, his attitude, motivation, and energy level improved along with his physical fitness.

That initially reluctant runner went on to earn a spot on the 1972 U.S. Olympic track team. He has also completed more than 100 marathons. Now, Galloway writes about running and tries to help people reach their fitness goals. Check out www.jeffgalloway.com for tips and inspiration.

Before Stepping Out, Remember …

Get the nod. Clear exercise plans with your doctor if you have any health concerns.

Ease into a routine. Start by exercising every other day, and work up to five days a week.

Dress the part. Wear well-fitting, comfortable shoes (Click if you want to find the best shoes for plantar fasciitis) custom-fit to your feet and gait.

Bundle up. Running in winter is possible! In cold weather, layering your clothes is smart. If it’s too cold or icy, try walking in a mall or jogging on a treadmill.

Choose the right path. Select safe, well-lit locations traveled by other walkers and runners, and avoid areas with heavy car traffic. Let your family know your route. It’s safest to run or walk with a friend.

Start and finish smart. If you’re a walker, warm up by walking slowly for three to five minutes. Warm up for a run with a brisk walk. Cool down for three minutes by slowing to a walk if you are running or slowing your pace if walking. While your muscles are still warm, stretch them slowly and gently-no bouncing!

Think About It …

What are some reasons it may be difficult for people to run or walk for fitness? Think of ways to minimize those obstacles.

Key Points

1. Walking and running are both environmentally friendly ways of getting exercise.

2. Walking is, for many people, the easiest activity to start with.

3. Many teens find jogging or running rewarding.

4. Some basic steps can help new walkers or runners get started.

Critical Thinking

What are some reasons it may be difficult for people to run or walk for fitness? Think of ways to minimize those obstacles.

Extension Activity

Find a local fund-raising event that involves walking or running. Organize a group to take part in it, and train together.

Running for brain power

Have you ever heard the phrase “jog your memory”? There’s more to it than just an old cliche. Imagine yourself taking a history test. You’ve studied for weeks and know the textbook backward and forward. You even know which page talks about the civil war. But then, your mind draws a blank. You can’t think of the answer to the next question. What do you do?

If you’re like most people, you’ll try different ways to “jog your memory.” You might try to picture the page and the words in your mind. You might try to think of something that’s associated with the same topic. You might even try to think of where you were when you studied that question. These are some ways to try to trigger a memory. But did you know that jogging (really running and working up a sweat) can actually benefit your memory as well as your intelligence?

Exercise stimulates the growth of developing brains. Dan Landers, Ph.D., looked at 13 different studies, and in each one, students under 16 years old showed the greatest link between exercise and brain power. In fact, these studies indicate that young people who exercise regularly become smarter than those who don’t. And that goes for older people too. Professor Brad Hatfield found that men who did aerobic activities (exercise that really gets your heart and lungs working for at least 20 minutes) did much better in math and in concentration than men who didn’t work out regularly.

More Oxygen, Higher IQ?

Now what about that history test that has you stumped? Dr. Roy J. Shephard found that young people who jog or do other aerobic activities for an hour each day did better on their school tests than those who were less active. Studies are now finding that there is a direct link between fitness and intelligence. So why is it that going out for a jog not only works your heart and lungs but your mind too? It’s simple: The answer is oxygen! When you expand the heart and lungs, your body is able to take in more oxygen. The brain depends on oxygen to function properly, and a healthy heart gets more oxygen to the brain. Robert Dustman, Ph.D., acknowledges this vital link to the brain: “Improve your heart and lungs and you get smarter.” Scott Hinkle and Bruce Tuckman tested students in fourth, fifth, sixth, and eighth grades. Half of each group ran for a semester and the other half didn’t. The kids who ran showed greater gains on their end-of-the-semester creativity tests than those who didn’t run.

So, when you can’t figure out the right answer for your history test, don’t get too bummed out. Go for a jog! Jogging actually makes you feel better. It can help clear your mind of worries, which can free you up to think of new strategies for problem solving. In fact, more doctors are becoming aware of the benefits jogging can have on changing moods. Some even prescribe exercise programs for people who are depressed. Higher amounts of the hormone called noradrenaline are found in people who run regularly. This hormone helps to put you in a better mood. Some people who once needed drugs to feel better are now exercising instead. Regular exercise is a natural, drug-free way to better health and self-esteem. When you’re feeling down, go for a jog and feel the difference!

If You Think You Can…

Picture yourself winning a race, making every free throw you attempt, kicking field goal after field goal. Does this sound impossible? Thinking it is actually the first step in doing it. On May 11, 1995, the American Academy of Neurology met in Seattle, Washington. Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone explained his research on mental practice. He studied three groups of people – one that practiced a physical skill, one that visualized themselves doing the activity, and one that practiced both physically and mentally. The group that had the best performance improvement after five days was the group that practiced the activity both physically and mentally. He found that this was true for any skill needing rehearsal, not just sports activities. If you are going to give a speech or perform music or drama, mental practice can make dramatic improvements.

A Win-Win Situation

Working the body to help the mind perform and working the mind to help the body is a win-win situation. Exercise helps you feel better about yourself and shapes up your body. Jogging can escalate your creativity, chase the blues away, and elevate your IQ. It’s a total body workout. Remember: “Practice makes perfect.” Imagine yourself running and doing well on a run. But don’t stop there. Imagine yourself doing other things too, and doing them well.

Looking good

You look in every mirror you pass to make sure you haven’t gained any weight. You’re sure that if you lose 10 pounds, all your problem is will go away. You know that the actors and actresses on television and the models in magazines have what seem like “ideal bodies.”

But no one has a “perfect body.” Everyone, however. can look good – and feel good.

Instead of striving for the perfect body, make your goal that of being physically fit. Your image of your body will improve along with your fitness.

Forget the “thin is fit” myth. Thin is not necessarily fit nor ideal. Weight loss is not the most important factor in improving body image.

Physical fitness has more to do with how well you can perform certain physical activities than with how much you weigh. A physically fit person has good endurance, strength, and heart and lung capacity.

The body of a fit person turns fat tissue into muscle tissue. Muscles weigh more than fat because they are denser. Muscles need more calories than fat. As you start getting more muscle tissue, you’ll find you can eat more without gaining weight.

How Do You Get Fit?

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends some physical activities every day, and vigorous activities for 20 to 30 minutes three or four times a week. While most teens claim they do an hour a day of physical activity, a 1994 study found that only about 50 percent of the boys and 25 percent of the girls exercise vigorously. One study showed that as teens get older, they exercise less.

You may walk to school every day, but unless you’re doing four to five miles per hour for a half hour, you can’t count it as the kind of vigorous exercise you get with activities such as brisk walking, jogging, basketball, racquet sports, dance, swimming laps, skating, bicycling, strength (resistance) training, and waist training with the best waist cincher. All these activities get you moving quickly and breathing hard for sustained periods of time.

One way to tell if you’re exercising hard enough is to check your target heart rate. To get your target heart rate, subtract your age from 220, and multiply that number by .65 and .85 (example: 220 – 16 = 204 x .65 = 133; 204 x .85 = 173. For a maximum workout that bums fat, your pulse rate should be between those numbers.

Do something you like. Let’s face it, doing something you hate will only encourage you to avoid exercise. Catch up on the latest news while you and a friend jog together. If you’re alone, doing a variety of activities will keep you from getting bored and will exercise different muscles.

Carrie Sowiak, athletic director of The Oxford Club in Denver, Colorado, recommends weight training to increase your percentage of muscle. Muscle tissue demands energy and increases your metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories).

Carrie has found that once teens start developing muscle and upper body strength, they don’t worry about losing weight. The muscle definition makes them look better, and they have a new body image.

Be sure you get instruction in weight training. If you don’t use the correct techniques, you can tear or strain your muscles. Carrie recommends a trainer who has a degree in a health - related field and is also certified by an accredited organization such as the American College of Sports Medicine.

Some of your exercises should be aerobic – activities that use a lot of oxygen such as jogging, bicycling, dancing, and swimming. If you haven’t done the activity before, start slowly and build up to longer times and greater distance over a period of weeks. Always start your session with some stretches to give your muscles a chance to warm up, and end with a few minutes of slower exercises and stretches to cool down.

Do, Not Overdo

Avoid the “weekend athlete syndrome,” saving up your daily exercise and spending it all on the weekends. If you do, you’re likely to set yourself up for a sports injury. You’ll want to set up a program that will strengthen you for your chosen weekend activity.

On the other hand, don’t over – do exercise. Some teens decide that more is better and start exercising every spare minute. Soon they’re obsessed with the idea of going longer distances and losing more weight.

Some of the signs that you are overdoing things are weighing yourself every day, or seeing yourself as fat no matter how much you weigh. You need some fat to provide insulation and store energy.

Get Moving

Get off to a good start this school year – get moving.

Exercise is great. A regular exercise program can help you tone muscles and get in shape. You’ll feel better – and look good, too.

Overdoing it with aerobics

Whether you go to an aerobic dance class or work out with Jane Fonda on videotape, if you’re one of the 24 million Americans who participates in aerobic dance programs, you’re on the right track to physical fitness. Aerobic dance programs and other aerobic exercise like walking, running, swimming, and bicycling improve heart and lung function and offer all those other benefits you know by heart: better quality of life, decreased risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, less stress, and more energy.

But (and it’s a big one) you can get too much of a good thing. Injuries associated with excessive amounts of aerobic exercise include stress fractures, shin splints, muscle pain, knee and ankle damage, back and foot problems, and (during hot, humid weather) heat exhaustion. Some people even develop “exercise addiction,” continuing intense programs in spite of chronic fatigue and problems with work or family relationships caused by an unreasonable drive to exercise.

Experts emphasize that benefits of moderate exercise programs far outweigh risks, but they also warn that increasing the amount and intensity beyond moderate levels increases the chance of exercise-related problems. Generally, a session that lasts longer than 45 minutes with the intensity of hard running carries a danger of injury. On the other hand, a session lasting less than 20 minutes has very little positive effect on the cardiovascular system.

High- vs. Low-Impact

In the early 1980s, health problems first noticed in aerobic dance program participants were attributed to the high-impact nature of the exercise: the jolting and pounding that results from having both feet off the floor at the same time. Concrete floors also contributed to stress on joints, as did improper shoes that didn’t give the stability, shock absorption, and flexibility needed. Researchers have since spent time looking for ways to improve aerobic dance facilities, shoes, and choreography to make programs safer without losing cardiovascular benefits.

The challenge was met in other ways, too. Low-impact programs were introduced, in which one foot is always touching the ground. Low-impact aerobics involve less jarring and cause fewer injuries. Still, the exercise are not injury-free. Ankle and knee injuries can nevertheless occur and without proper guidance, you might not get the heart and lung workout you seek.

Move Around

Still, benefits of a good low-impact program can equal those of a high-impact workout if participants use multi-directional, full-body movements. What does this mean? In every session: Move around the room often and change direction frequently; use the large muscle groups in the legs, hips, and back; and use smooth, controlled movements.

Your instructor should always explain each exercise, especially proper position and placement. If you’re not doing a movement correctly, you won’t get the benefits, and you could hurt yourself.

As for the intensity of your workout, one easy way to be sure you’re not exercising too hard is the “talk test.” You should be able to carry on a conversation during your workout. If you’re breathing too hard to do that, your intensity is too high.

Stretching, the Myth

Finally, the myth that injury can be prevented by stretching before exercise has been called into doubt by a study at the University of South Carolina. Researchers found no difference in injury rates among runners who stretched before their workout and those who didn’t. In fact, they found some evidence that improper stretching may even cause pulled or torn muscles. (Competitive athletes in sports such as tennis or volleyball with a lot of stop-and-go and those that require a full range of motion of joints such as gymnastics may still benefit from pre-workout stretching.)

Other studies show that a few minutes of warm-up jogging, walking, or bicycling before exercise sessions prevent injury by helping muscles absorb more force and making them less likely to tear. A gradual cool-down, such as walking after jogging or slow swimming after a tough practice may do more good than post-exercise stretching.

What this all means is you don’t need a “no-pain no-gain” workout to benefit from aerobic exercise. If you work at your own pace and use habits that work for you, you’ll improve your health and fitness–without overdoing it.