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Walk your way to a healthier body

Prevention Magazine's Patricia deSa  the right equipment can keep the pounds away in just steps a day
/ Source: TODAY

It's the easiest form of exercise and anyone can do it. With the right steps and swings, you can burn calories in just minutes just by walking around the block. Michele Stanten, senior fitness editor with Prevention Magazine, talks to NBC's Weekend Today show about how to get started.

The secret to getting off the couch (once and for all), reducing your risk of disease, and shedding pounds looks like a beeper, clips onto your waistband, and may cost as little as $30. This unimpressive-looking device is a simple pedometer, used traditionally by racewalkers to track their mileage. But it may be one of the most powerful motivators you've ever encountered, short of a Marine Corps drill sergeant. Studies now show that sedentary people who wear pedometers and have a daily goal become more active all day and see improvements in fitness and body fat comparable to people doing more structured exercise. If you're one of those people who believe that only vigorous exercise — such as jogging 2 miles — counts toward fitness, you'd better think again, says Ross Andersen, PhD, associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore.The pedometer research that Dr. Andersen and others have done proves that increasing your everyday activities — walking the dog and just getting up more often — can make a big difference. So we decided to give it a try. We put a group of overweight people on a pedometer program. Based on the number of steps they normally took, we divided them into two groups. Those who were most inactive had a goal of 10,000 steps, while those who were more active had a goal of 18,000 steps. After just 8 weeks, they saw improvements in weight, body fat, cholesterol, and fitness.The Secret of the Pedometer"It's inexpensive, low-tech, and doesn't require any expertise," says Catrine Tudor-Locke, PhD, research assistant professor at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. "You just snap it on and look at it every now and then." You don't have to make time the way you have to plan for visiting the gym or going to aerobics class. Hooking on a pedometer can easily become part of your day, says Rebecca Lindberg, MPH, RD, physical activity advisor for HealthPartners, a large managed-care organization in Minneapolis that has been using pedometers to get people more active since 1999.The greatest power of the pedometer, though, seems to be its ability to motivate. "We can give the messages — park your car farther away, take the stairs instead of the elevator — but now all of a sudden, you can look down and see that it does make a difference," Lindberg says. After you take a walk, it's satisfying to see your steps ticking away. It's like a pat on the back. It also cues you to be more active. When you see or feel the pedometer on your waistband, you're reminded to get moving, especially if you've got a long way to go to hit your goal.Even Exercisers Can Benefit
If you work out regularly but aren't seeing the results you want, a pedometer may help. "Because of labor-saving devices, our daily activity has diminished to nil," says Dr. Tudor-Locke. So your regular exercise sessions may not be enough to counteract all the calories you're no longer burning thanks to drive-thrus, remote controls, and e-mail. By using a pedometer, you'll be reminded to be more active throughout the day. "And the more you move, the more calories you burn," she adds.

Get the Right Equipment
If you're planning on taking a walk, whether it's several blocks or a 20 mile walkathon, you need to make sure you're dressed comfortably and appropriately, and carrying the right walking gear. Here are a few essentials you'll need to get started.

Walking Shoes Wearing the wrong shoe, even a running shoe can be damaging on the feet. Walking shoes aren't just a market ploy. They're specifically designed for how we walk, which is very different from how we run. While runners land flat-footed, walkers land on their heels, so the heels of walking shoes are slanted to increase stability. Since no two feet are alike, you need to find the shoe that fits your feet. Reebok VersaSport DMX Max Walking Shoes offers a special air-cushioning shoe that moves air back n'forth between heel and forefoot. It offers comfort and flexibility which is what every walker needs. Cost $70.00.

Socks Your choice of socks is equally as important as walking shoes. Choose socks made of Thor-lon yarn like Thorlos Walking Socks, rather than the standard cotton sock. Thor-lon is a special material that prevents blisters and absorbs moister. Your feet will be much more comfortable, dryer and more likely to stay blister free in this fabric.

Outerwear Outwerwear is just as important as footwear. You never know if it will rain on your marathon walk, so it's wise to carry a jacket. Invest in a lightweight waterproof jacket that's breathable and durable. Marmot Oracle jacket is thin and compressible enough to stuff in any pocket, or tie around the waist. Cost $150.

Walking Waist pack To maximize your walking workout, you should also invest in walking gear that holds all your essentials. Strider has created a waist pack that's tailored for women. It's designed for women's hip, so there's no bulkiness of discomfort when you walk long distance. The angled zipper cargo pocket is perfect for storage and access. There's also a holster designed to hold your water bottle, and that's needed since you have to stay hydrated.  Cost is $30.00 and can be ordered on www.ultimatedirection.com.

Pedometer and Watch
You've started walking, now you're ready to pick up your pace, one gadget you should always carry is a pedometer. A pedometer counts your steps and mileage. It's a small gadget you can wear on your waist or around your neck to monitor your results, and calculate how many calories your burning. Or if you prefer to wear watch, invest in a sportswatch which will monitor everything, from your walking pace, to calories burn. Timex Ironman Speed and Distance System Watch accurately measures your speed and distance data, and walking pace. Cost $150.00

Excerpted courtesy of Prevention Magazine. Copyright © 2004 by Prevention Magazine.