By Mackie Shilstone

Once you have embarked on a conscious and well-thought-out plan for losing weight, one of the best things you can do to shed pounds and keep them off is aerobic walking. Walking between 45 and 60 minutes a day is, by far, one of the easiest and most beneficial forms of exercise in which anyone can engage.

An article published by the American College of Sports Medicine says that aerobic activity reduces insulin resistance in people who suffer from obesity. The study also showed that aerobic training reduces fat mass without changing its fat-free mass, so you lose more fat than lean muscle. Another study by a prestigious medical publication showed that the risk of developing heart disease in men between the ages of 71 and 93 decreased 15% for every half-mile they walked per day. Someone walking two miles per day may reduce their risk by over 50%.

The best thing about walking is that it is the simplest and least expensive exercise you can do and yet one of the most beneficial. Other than a comfortable pair of shoes, there are no cost factors involved and no special equipment is required, either. You can invest in a pedometer and/or a tape player with a headset that narrates a routine for you but these devices are strictly optional. Buy your shoes in a store that specializes in athletic equipment and the two main things to look for are support and comfort. Don't buy footwear that is too tight or too loose. Allow room for expansion and for the toes to move. And when you walk, dress accordingly for the weather. Know what the temperature and humidity levels are outside and layer yourself appropriately.

You should set a goal of incrementally working up to between 30 to 45 minutes per day. It is best not to eat anything before you go on your walk. If you eat anything high in sugar content prior to walking, it will minimize your body's ability to reach into its fat stores and burn off the body fat you're trying to lose.

Before starting your walk, a brief warmup should precede it. Five to ten minutes of stretching exercises should suffice. It is extremely important for your muscles and joints to be limber when you begin your walk.

However, while walking you have to be careful not to overexert yourself. There are signs you can look for that will tell you if you are overdoing it. Severe shortness of breath, wheezing or coughing, tightness in the chest, excessive perspiration and other discomforts should tell you that something is wrong. Consult with your physician prior to beginning a new exercise program, especially after a prolonged period of inactivity.

I suggest walking at least six times a week and the ideal time is between 1 and 1½ hours before your evening meal, if you desire to increase your metabolic rate. While walking, try to focus on what you're doing and think only pleasant, positive thoughts. Set a good, comfortable pace for yourself, maintain good posture throughout and follow through.

For the over-fat individual, if you adopt and adhere to a plan of eating foods with a low glycemic index, as discussed in previous columns, this aerobic walking program will help you lose unwanted fat in your abdominal area. And, if you stick to this plan, you will not only take the fat off, you'll keep it off.