How Baby Boomers Can Stay Fit With Race Walking

As America's roughly 75 million baby boomers head toward a medically unfit retirement, there is a growing challenge to stay fit and healthy. Fortunately, there is a simple way for baby boomers to lose weight and shape up; it's called race walking.

Author Brent Bohlen recently published BoomerWalk, which suggests that race walking is the key to long-term fitness for the aging baby boomer population.

Brent Bohlen's Discovery of Race Walking

Bohlen, a track athlete in junior high and high school, discovered race walking while watching the track and field portion of the Illinois Senior Olympics. After watching the Senior Olympics race walk competition, he said to himself, "That's something I can still do."

With his knees long abused after 45 years of basketball, running was out of the question. However, he could still walk a lot with no pain. The following year, Bohlen signed up to participate in a 1500 meter race walk. He had walked a lot on the treadmill, but didn't have much exposure to race walking. He strolled to the starting line, and though fear rippled through him, Bohlen made it through the race anyway.

Learning Race Walking

Bohlen learned what he could from the Internet, DVDs and a race walking clinic. He said that even though you might know what to do, getting feedback on your technique is important. "Finding a coach or a race walking club to teach you moves you up the learning curve," Bohlen said. "If you don't have any experienced race walkers nearby, at least find someone to train with because you can observe each other and help identify problems."

When many people take up race walking, they may worry that the unusual gait of race walking will lead to mocking. But Bohlen never felt self-conscious about race walking when he was out training. When he started, he was the only race walker in Springfield, Illinois, so it was something new for most people to see. Some asked what he was doing, and he explained race walking. Now he usually wears one of his self-designed T-shirts that lists the benefits of race walking and educates people about what he's doing.

While Bohlen himself was in good shape when he took up race walking, it has improved his aerobic conditioning substantially and has allowed him to stay in shape in spite of his aging knees. Some of the people he trained last summer dropped weight rapidly with race walking, and one person even had to get a completely new wardrobe.

How Much Does He Train?

Bohlen varies his training according to particular races on his schedule. Since he's training for a half marathon, he's walking four to six miles with some longer walks up to 11 miles. He will eventually do the full distance before he tapers off ahead of the race. He's only walking about four days a week to give his body some rest. Normally he'd prefer to train five or six days a week with walks of three to five miles. Absent a particular race he tries to get 45 minutes of vigorous exercise six days a week as recommended in Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley Dr. Harry Lodge, a book that changed the way he looked at exercise.

Why Race Walking is Perfect for Baby Boomers

To stay healthy, you need an extended period of aerobic exercise several days a week. In your 20s, 30s and early 40s, you may have run, jogged or played tennis, basketball or other vigorous sports to stay in shape. As a baby boomer in your late 40s to early 60s, your joints can't take the pounding of running and jogging in the same way.

Race walking gets one's heart pumping just as much as running or any other sport. However, it does so without as much stress on the knees and other joints. Since there's no "in flight" period like there is in running and jogging, and there's no starting and stopping, twisting and turning like in tennis or basketball. Overweight baby boomers put excess stress on their knees, therefore a low-impact activity is especially important.

Race walking is highly aerobic, low impact and can be competitive for those looking to compete. This is why it is an ideal sport for aging baby boomers.

How to Start a Walking Program?

As always, before you start a walking program check with your doctor to make sure that you are physically up to it. The next step is to learn the technique. It is key to develop a solid technique base before you try to go fast and pick up bad habits. This may mean that you have to slow down a little to master the intricacies of race walking technique before you benefit by the speed increase.

Race walking has long-term benefits. If you make race walking a part of your life-long exercise regimen, you should be able to race walk long after your joints have made you stop running and jogging. It will help keep you fit into old age. And if you want to continue competing, you can do that, too.

Learn More About BoomerWalk

Brent Bohlen's hope is that BOOMERWALK leads thousands of baby boomers to take up race walking. Learn more about Boomer Walk at and see video of baby boomers in action.

Jeff Salvage is the founder of, author of the Race Walk Like a Champion Book and DVD set, as well as the new book Two Feet Goes Race Walking. He has coached walkers at all levels including beginners, juniors, walkers attempting the marathon, masters race walkers, and elite athletes competing internationally. He is a diligent promoter of race walking, covering events like the Olympics, the World Cup, and national championships for, Walk! Magazine, and the Race Walking Record.

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