Physically Fit for Life

In the last article posted to this blog, I discussed the current widespread attraction to extremes in the realms of physical fitness and appearance and the potential damage that this can do. If you haven’t read that article you can check it out: Attraction to the Extremes of Physical Fitness.

I want to spend this post developing an idea alluded to in the previous post, that of a more sane approach: the goal of being physically fit for life. Lets start out working backwards by defining the results we require of exercise, results that will match our aim of being fit for living. Then we can go on to look at the best practical exercise approaches for stimulating those results.


Physically Fit for Life: The Sixteen Factors

Exercise that helps to bring the below factors into a personal optimal range:
  1. Aerobic base system fitness (central and peripheral adaptations to moderate-intensity exercise)
  2. Speed of recovery from intense exercise
  3. Immune function and ability to endure stressors
  4. Stress levels, relaxation and mood,
  5. Energy levels, and general quality of life
  6. Sleep patterns
  7. Body fat mass (via calorie utilization during exercise)
  8. Muscle tissue mass
  9. Strength, across the entire muscular system
  10. Bone mass density and the strength and integrity of joints, tendons and ligaments
  11. Flexibility across all joints. (For some individuals this can mean reducing hypermobility just as it can mean increasing a range of motion that is below normal for others)
  12. Posture
  13. Protection against aging and some chronic diseases; including certain cancers and coronary heart disease
  14. Protection against joint diseases and associated pain
  15. Body fat mass and metabolic health (via metabolic enhancement and excess post-exercise oxygen consumption)
  16. Cardiovascular fitness (central and peripheral adaptations to high-intensity exercise). 


Addressing the First Seven Factors: As Simple as Walking

The first seven considerations on our list above are actually best stimulated by moderate-intensity activity. When it comes to building a healthful lifestyle it helps to have a daily habit, something that you can engage in frequently: moderate-intensity exercise.


Walking is a fantastic choice of moderate-intensity exercise: it doesn’t cost anything and you can literally get up out of your seat and engage in walking pretty much anytime and anywhere.

“Surely”, you may be thinking, “walking doesn’t do much of anything for us, fitness wise?” The good news is, yes it does: walking provides a multitude of benefits relating to health and wellbeing. For instance, walking has been shown to improve mood and helps us to relax, these effects alone are of immense benefit. Regular walking can also help improve both quality of sleep and sleep cycle regularity, two factors important for our general health, which in turn enhances recovery from our daily stressors; physical and mental.

At a purely physiologic level walking can help to build the aerobic base or oxidative system, stimulating positive enzymatic and mitochondrial adaptations. Beneficial changes can also happen within the heart itself: a stretching of the left ventricle occurs as a response to regular low-intensity activity. This has the result of improving stroke volume, increasing the amount of oxygenated blood that the left ventricle can push out to the rest of the body in one pump. Simply put this is helping to build a more efficient heart.

Walking can also enhance immunosurveillance, increasing efficacy in the way the immune system looks for and identifies pathogens including viruses, bacteria and cancerous cells. Those who walk regularly tend to have greater resilience to colds and flu than those who are comparatively inactive.

Finally walking also aids in speeding up recovery between bouts of more intense forms of exercise. When you do perform more intense exercise a simple walk will enhance your physiology’s ability to repair itself and be ready for further physical challenges.


How to make walking work for you

Ideally walk continuously for 20-30 minutes at a time, two separate times a day, for example morning and evening. Once is good but you’ll likely get more health and wellbeing benefits from twice. If you have the inclination to take longer walks occasionally, for example at weekends of course that is fine to do.

For convenience you can make your walks part of your daily commute, or when you have the time, and for even greater benefit seek out as nature-rich an environment as possible to walk in. If you are in a city even a tree-lined street will enhance your experience or better yet pick a local park. Out of town head for fields, hills, forests, river valleys or the coast whenever you can.



Walk at a brisk pace, this will likely be in the region of 3-5 miles per hour (dependent on how conditioned to walking you are currently), which means that in a 30-minute walk you will probably cover about 1.5-2.5 miles.

Practically speaking, maintain as fast a pace as you can whilst still being able to breathe exclusively through your nose as you walk. If you find you have to open your mouth to breathe comfortably, then slow down a little, this will help ensure that you don’t end up exercising too hard to reap the specific benefits we are looking for when walking (especially on more challenging terrain such as going up steep hills).

Another convenient way of assessing your pace is you ought to be capable of making conversation consisting of whole sentences without have to gasp for breath every few words. Again, if that is not possible for you, do slow down a bit.


Using a Heart Rate Monitor

If you use a heart rate monitor (or HRM app) you can get a bit more precise with monitoring your level of effort, whether you feel this is worth doing or not is a personal choice. Be free to skip the equations below if you do not intend to use a heart rate monitor.

To get the most out of walking while using HRM technology you will want to work within the range of 60-75% of your maximum heart rate (MHR).


Maximum Heart Rate

To make heart rate monitoring work for you, you will firstly need to know your maximum heart rate. There are tests you can perform to accurately find your personal MHR, however these physical tests are very intense and carry a significant risk in performance, particularly for those who are deconditioned.

Luckily, there is an alternative that will work for our purposes. Firstly you can estimate your maximum heart rate (MHR) by:

  1. Multiplying your age by 0.7
  2. Subtracting that number from 208

We will use the example of Kate who is 30 years old, to demonstrate the working:

  1. 30 x 0.7 = 21
  2. 208 – 21 = 187

Therefore Kate’s estimated MHR is 187 beats per minute.

Next we will need to figure out our target heart rate for our low-intensity walking exercise. A method that I find to be quite accurate for doing this is known as the heart-rate reserve (HRR) method.


The Heart Rate Reserve Method
1. Find your resting heart rate.

Do this by taking a heart rate measurement whilst still in bed, first thing in the morning. Look for an average over a week where you do not feel unwell or overly stressed, as resting heart rate can be altered significantly by illness and stress. Remember Kate from above? When she did this she discovered her typical resting heart rate to be 65 BPM.

2. Find your heart rate reserve.

Subtract your resting heart rate from your maximum heart rate to find your heart rate reserve. Kate’s works out like this: 187 – 65 = 122 HRR

3. Multiply your HRR by the upper target heart range: 75%.

Kate did this: 122 x 0.75 = 92 (rounded to nearest whole number).

4. Add your resting heart rate back to the figure in step three.

For Kate this is: 92 + 65 = 157 BPM

5. Figure out the lower limit.

Figure out the lower limit as well, using 60% in step three (and use the result of that to work step four).

Kate’s goes like this: 122 x 0.60 = 73, and then 73 + 65 = 138 BPM


Therefore Kate’s target heart rate range of 60-75% is 138 to 157 BPM which she can now monitor as she walks, via her HRM device.

If you are going to use heart rate monitoring go ahead and work your own personalized range out.


Replacing Walking with Other Moderate-Intensity Activities

Walking is the most convenient and least expensive option for getting in daily moderate-intensity activity to cover the first seven factors of being Physically Fit for Life. Walking is also a low-impact and generally low-risk activity to engage in. All of which are reasons that I highly recommend walking as the top choice of moderate-intensity activity.

There are of course other options available; other rhythmic activities such as cycling, jogging and swimming are viable alternatives to walking. Although ultimately not quite as convenient or safe as walking, these alternates can serve our purpose, particularly if you personally happen to get greater enjoyment out of one of them in comparison to walking.

If you choose one of these alternate options, just remember to keep the intensity moderate and if you are measuring heart rate, keep it somewhere between 60-75% of your predicted maximum.


A Reminder of the Benefits of Moderate-Intensity Exercise

Bring into a personal optimal range:
  1. Aerobic base system fitness (central and peripheral adaptations to moderate-intensity exercise
  2. Speed of recovery from intense exercise
  3. Immune function and ability to endure stressors
  4. Stress levels, relaxation and mood,
  5. Energy levels, and general quality of life
  6. Sleep patterns
  7. Body fat mass (via calorie utilization during exercise)


Dealing with the Remaining 9 Factors

In the next part to this series of articles we will consider the nine remaining factors of being Physically Fit for Life, those that wont be significantly addressed by performing moderate-intensity exercise. If walking is akin to a repetitive jab, then the subject of the next post is the big right hook!


This article was posted on April 11, 2016 by in Exercise, Health and Fitness, How-tos

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