Putting Your Best Foot Forward

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Putting Your Best Foot Forward

When the comedienne Lee Young-ja, 34, returned to television screens last month, people could not believe their eyes. Ms. Lee, who gained fame through a brand of slapstick comedy that focused on her girth, had shed more than 30 kilograms since she made her last television appearance last May.

Weighing 98 kilograms at her heaviest, Ms. Lee had been through a gamut of crash diets before finally succeeding. So what accounts for her triumph? Simple. "I just walked," Ms. Lee told reporters at a recent press conference.

Well, she must have walked a lot to drop from 98 to 64 kilograms in 10 months. Actually, she ran and walked 7 kilometers every day along the Han River, come rain or shine. She also cut her food intake by half. Instead of eating until she felt full, she ate four small meals and stayed clear of starchy foods.

Walking is a simple way to lose weight if done correctly and consistently, as Ms. Lee's case illustrates. To lose 1 kilogram, you need to burn 7,400 calories. At normal walking pace, you can burn up 300-600 calories in an hour. If you are walking an hour every other day, you can lose about 650 grams in one month. If you walk every day for an hour, you stand to drop 1.3 kilograms in one month. Combine this with changes in diet and you can see the potential for weight loss in this seemingly simple exercise.

Walking is a low-impact aerobic exercise, meaning that you can get all the cardiovascular benefits of other aerobic exercises with a minimum of stress and strain to your body. Because there is very little technique involved, walking is ideal for people just beginning to work out.

Although most of us are unaware of this, walking is also a weight-bearing exercise. Just by walking with good posture, one can strengthen muscles and keep bones strong. Walking can also help prevent osteoporosis.

Another big plus in favor of walking is that it requires very little investment. All you need is a pair of good walking shoes with arch support and flexibility, and climate-appropriate attire.

If you plan to walk as an exercise routine, it is important to use proper form and technique to improve fitness and prevent injury. Keep your head up with your eyes focused a few steps ahead. Keep the jaw relaxed. Your shoulders should be back and relaxed, not hunched forward. Your chest should be lifted and your back kept straight and tall. Abdominal muscles should be gently contracted. Your knees should be kept flexible, not locked.

Cup your hands loosely. While you should not clench your fists, hands should not hang limp either. Bend elbows 90 degrees and swing the arms forward and back.

As you step, plant the heel of your front foot first and then roll the entire length of your back foot along the ground, from heel to toe. Push off with the toes of your back foot. Imagine a straight line along the path in front. Try to keep to the line, toes pointed straight ahead.

When you speed up, your hips should rotate forward naturally as each leg extends. Aim and turn the sides of your hips toward the imaginary centerline to facilitate the rotation. Swing your arms back past your hips rather than forward into the air. Although it may look a little strange, maintaining a good form will provide a better workout than walking without thinking.

Do not neglect to warm up and cool down because you are "just" walking. Take a few lunges, do jumping jacks or march in place to prepare the joints and muscles for the walk. To cool down after the walk, slow your walking pace for five to 10 minutes. Follow with a good stretching routine to develop flexibility.

As with any routine, walking can become boring and you can counter that by simply changing the route. Try a variety of terrain; for example, incorporate hills into your route. Doing part of the walking backward not only adds variety to the regimen, but it works different leg muscles and improves balance as well. (Remember to look where you are going!)

It is important to drink water before, during and after walking. Some people stay away from water, believing that by replenishing the fluids they will replace the weight they have worked off. This is a fallacy; fluid loss is not a healthy, long-term way to shed weight. If you are not properly hydrated, you risk cramps and even heatstroke in warm weather.

Drink a glass of water about 10 minutes before you start walking. En route, you should drink about one cup of water for every 20 minutes you walk.

As people who take regular walks will testify, walking helps relieve stress and anxiety, improving both mood and cognitive function. It is the endorphins ("feel-good" brain chemicals) released during a walking workout that lift your spirits.

As with any exercise routine walking should not be overdone. The reason people do not succeed in losing weight by walking is because they try to do too much at once. "Exercise then becomes labor," said Kim Yang-soo, director of Kim's Exercise Prescription Center in Yeoksam-dong, Seoul. To get an efficient workout, it is important to have a tailored exercise regime, taking into account the individual's body-fat ratio, metabolic rate and strength and flexibility, according to Mr. Kim.

With regular exercise and dividing what you would normally eat in two meals into three meals, cutting your daily food intake by about a third, you can lose 2-3 kilograms a month with relative ease. "The maximum would be 4-5 kilograms a month, after which your health could be damaged," said Mr. Kim, adding that there should be no rush in the battle against the bulge.

by Kim Hoo-ran

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