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Walking in Place

a simple exercise with surprising results

Karen Miller | 7/29/2013, 11:51 a.m.
Carla Webster-Reid, a certified group fitness trainer, demonstrates the technique of walking in place. Photo by Ernesto Arroyo

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Carla Webster-Reid, a certified group fitness trainer, demonstrates the technique of walking in place. To spice it up she adds foot kicks, steps forwards and back and hikes her knees higher. Webster-Reid teaches a fitness class at Melnea A. Cass Recreation Complex in Roxbury.

It’s easy to come up with excuses not to exercise. Lack of time is one excuse. The cost of gym memberships is another. Yet, there is an exercise that blows all those excuses away.

It does not take much time; it’s free and you don’t need company to do it. All you need are comfortable walking shoes and a little bit of floor space.

It’s what researchers at the University of Tennessee (UT) call “TV commercial stepping.” That’s a catchy phrase for walking in place.

The connection between TV and exercise seems a bit of a stretch. Couch potato more readily comes to mind. But given the fact that hour-long shows run an average of 42 minutes of entertainment, and half-hour shows a mere 21 minutes, that leaves 18 and 9 minutes, respectively, to get moving instead of sitting through mind-numbing commercials.

In just two hour-long shows, exercise time could meet the recommended 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, as advocated in the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined that not even half of all adults meet these guidelines. Less than one-third of high school students get at least the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity every day.

Walking is an excellent exercise. It’s accessible, simple and does not require any training. Yet, the benefits are tremendous. Walking can lower blood pressure, “bad” cholesterol and the risk of type 2 diabetes. It can improve one’s mood and help a person stay fit.

These health benefits do not accrue only when you walk from one location to another. It’s the activity, not the distance that counts.

Short on time and space?

Walking in place can help you achieve your fitness and weight loss goals. Here are some pointers to keep it interesting.

Lift your feet higher

Try going in circles

Move 10 steps forward then 10 steps backward

Add arm exercises, such as biceps curl and shoulder circles

Vary your speed by walking at a fast pace for two minutes, then at a regular pace for four minutes

Add leg movements such as kicks and high knee lifts

Because Americans seem reluctant to give up screen time, the researchers at UT decided to convert sedentary TV time into active TV time. They conducted a small-scale pilot study to determine if walking in place during television commercials could increase physical activity and expenditure of energy.

They discovered that walking in place during commercials in a one-hour show burned almost twice as many calories as reclining or sitting during one hour of TV time. The participants were active for an average of 21 minutes and accumulated about 2,100 steps during commercial breaks.

These results have an impact because of their practicality. In the most recent report of American time use, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that watching TV was the leisure activity that occupied the most time every day for those aged 15 and over. While sports, exercise and recreation accounted for an average of 18 minutes a day, TV watching came in at a walloping three hours per day of leisure time.

Inactivity has been cited as one cause of the burgeoning obesity problem in this country.

In addition, when making a lifestyle change it is recommended to make small improvements for success. For those who have a tough time getting going, TV commercial stepping is a good spring board.