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Walkin' back to healthiness...

Walking is a great way to complement the exercises we have been doing. With walking, age is no barrier as it is adapted to all kinds of people. Walking strengthens the cardiovascular system, tones muscles and increases flexibility, reduces stress and burns fat.

Walking puts your body under a minimum amount of stress: a walker's foot receives one to one-and-a-half times their body weight each time it strikes the ground compared with a runner's, which places three to four times the body weight with each stride. This lighter approach means fewer injuries and brisk walking with a moderate 10 degree incline burns more calories than jogging five miles an hour.

One hour of brisk walking burns an average of 348 calories while one pound of fat equals 3,500 calories. So if you walk every day for a year you will burn 127,020 calories. That's the equivalent to 36 pounds, or more than two-and-a-half stone.

Fitness walking is often used by athletes as in cross-training programmes. It complements cycling, swimming and running while, combined with light weight-training, it could result in a new you.



stride

Walking briskly, changing your stride every mile to avoid back or hip strain, will help to firm the legs and bottom.

Try walking heel to toe rather than shuffling your feet along. Walking correctly will help avoid shin and calf strain.

If you find walking for a whole hour too hard, just do two or three miles at whatever speed is right for you -- aim for your own pace and make it enjoyable. Walking in a park or on a beach it is ideal as your high oxygen intake from the clean air will burn off more calories.

Get yourself a good pair of runners or walking shoes and don't use shoes that are old or hurt your feet. As you get fitter, a tip would be to put Vaseline on your heels and toes and wear good socks to prevent blisters.



weights

For those of you who find walking too easy stride-walking may be better. Simply use light arm and ankle weights, use brisk arm movements and aim for a rate of five miles an hour -- it's like cross-country skiing without the snow.

I want to share my experience of preparing for longer and faster walking such as the Walking Dublin Marathon. I have completed quite a few, with best times between 4.55 and 5.10.

Keep a training diary and aim to complete four miles in one hour. When this gets easy, step the pace up a little but don't jog. What often slows you down is tightening in the hips and shoulders -- walking too upright with no flexibility in the lower back and mid-range of the shoulders.

Do not over stretch before the walk as when your body is cold you could do more damage than good. The most effective time to stretch is at the end of your walk. Hold each stretch for 15 seconds, no more. If the calves are tight, gently lower your heels down from a step or stairs letting your heels go down as far as possible and return to the starting position.

If you have access to a building with a lot of stairs you have access to one of the best aerobic exercises of all. Climb with a pace that will not leave you exhausted. Keep an eye on your heart-rate targe-zone-- 79pc of the result of 220 minus your age. Keep your pulse rate to your target zone for 15-20 minutes for the best cardio and conditioning results.

Invest in a really good pair of runners and get advice at somewhere like Elverys where they will observe you walking on a treadmill and advise which shoes are best.



adventure

I went to a certain adventure store and was told I needed insoles. Unfortunately they failed to tell me how to use them correctly.

I wore them for a complete marathon and seriously damaged the metatarsal in my right foot. I went back and was then told that I should have worn them only for a half-hour daily.

This advice was a little late for me as I was still in pain two years later.

It was Eamon Coughlan who came to my rescue. He advised me to roll my foot gently over a golf ball, putting more pressure on it as it got easier.

This is the most effective advice I have been given and it worked for me and lots of my clients with similar problems. I wasted time and money getting specialised insoles made to no avail -- they may work for some people but not for me.

So get your plan ready. Start slowly. Find a walking partner and go out in all weathers, rain, hail or snow.