They do it in Hampstead, in Taneytown, in New Windsor.

Men do it.Women do it. Some octogenarians do it.

They even do it in Westminster's Cranberry Mall.

It requires no special equipment, no special training and only a very modest degree of athletic ability.

It's walking, of course -- the oldest form of locomotion in the world, now gaining brand-new recognition for itshealth benefits.

The 1980s was the decade of the runner. The onlyway to get fit, we were told, was to get out there and pound the pavement, sweat our way around the track, sign up for a marathon, run a 10K every weekend.

If that was too boring, we could do it to music-- join an aerobics class and bounce and leap around the floor to the seductive voice of Barry Manilow crooning "This One's For You."

An unfortunate result of that unrestrained quest for fitness is a lotof aging yuppies with shin splints, bad knees and groaning hip joints.

In the 1990s, we've entered a gentler, more sensible era of personal fitness. Today the fitness watchword is "Walk, don't run."

Sam Case, a professor at Western Maryland College noted for his research in exercise physiology, recommends walking as an ideal exercise for people of all ages who are in reasonably good health. Case recommends those who are elderly or a tad out of shape start with a 1-mile walk, adding a quarter of a mile each week.

"Build up to what is comfortable and what you have the time for," he says.

Of course thosewho are recovering from illness or have been inactive should have a doctor's checkup before starting any exercise program.

Case recognizes the difficulty of finding time from our busy lives to include a daily walk.

"The best way is to build your walking right into yourschedule," he says. "Drive halfway to work, park your car and walk the rest of the way. Set a particular time of day and make that your time to walk and nothing else."

An alternative to outdoor walking is mall walking. The mall walkways provide a safe, even surface for walking and protection from the weather as well. Cranberry Mall opens its door to walkers at 6 a.m. each weekday. The facility is well-used for this purpose and has been a welcome addition for local walkers.

Another plus for walking is that it doesn't demand a $100 pair of Air Jordans or a 10-speed bike costing in the high hundreds.

"For walking, the only equipment required is a pair of good walking or running shoes," Case says. "You don't have the impact problem you do withrunning, but you still need good support and a certain amount of cushioning."

How fast does a person have to walk to benefit from the exercise? Case recommends a comfortable pace.

"You should move fast enough so you feel a bit breathless, but still be able to talk," hesays.

He also notes that running and walking both burn up the same amount of calories -- roughly 100 calories to the mile.

"Whetheryou walk or run, you're still burning about 100 calories for every mile you cover," Case says. "It just takes longer when you walk."

As proof that there is sometimes justice in this lopsided world, people who have more weight to lose burn calories faster when walking thanthin people. Because calorie burn-off depends on weight and distancetraveled, a 200-pound person traveling one mile would burn more than100 calories, a 100-pound person would burn fewer.

Increased aerobic capacity is another reason so many people are out walking these days. Walking at a pace fast enough to increase the resting pulse ratebenefits heart, lungs and circulatory systems.

Case recommends several ways for walkers to increase the aerobic benefits of walking: increase your pace; use more arm motion; and use weights.

In addition to weight loss and increased aerobic fitness, there are other benefits to walking -- greater stamina and an increased sense of well-being are bonuses reported by many walkers. Case says studies have even shown a lower mortality rate among those who exercise regularly than among persons who are sedentary.

"Even five or six miles a week can be beneficial," he says.

With all the benefits walking offers, there are some cautions. Older people in particular should not attemptto walk when ice and snow make footing treacherous. Also, automobiletraffic is a hazard to anyone walking on a traveled thoroughfare without sidewalks.

Like bikers, walkers using the roadways should always wear bright, easily visible colors and reflective clothing at night.

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad