In recent months, brisk walking has caught the attention of health enthusiasts across the nation due to its numerous workout perks. This past September, the U.S. surgeon general created Step It Up!, a program that not only encourages people to increase their walking regimen but also supports community efforts to provide safe and accessible locations for this type of exercise. Regardless of age or body type, the benefits are proven: According to a study released by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Life Science Division, brisk walking can reduce the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Not surprisingly, many locals and tourists alike in Laguna Beach have adopted this trend. The reason is simple: You can improve your health by treading the trail or sidewalk at a fast pace while enjoying the beauty of our seaside city. Whether it’s strolling down Forest Avenue at a steady stride or gazing at a golden sunset while putting one foot in front of the other along Coast Highway, brisk walking in Laguna is a treat for both the body and soul.
Apt for All Ages
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans released in 2008, adults should complete at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week for substantial health benefits, while children should do 60 minutes daily. Brisk walking is an activity that can easily fulfill those recommendations and improve the lives of participants both young and old.
“The cells in the muscles will increase in strength and stamina … if properly exercised and given the right nutrients,” says Dr. Jack Lynn, owner of local fitness facility Time Defiance Fitness. “Improving the cardiovascular system is an obvious benefit, but also maintaining the strength, lubrication and mobility of the joints.”
For those who have been inactive for a long period of time, brisk walking is the most effective way of starting an exercise program because it involves less comprehensive impact to knee and hip structures, which is also extremely beneficial to those who are recovering from injuries. By applying this type of routine, the body not only improves in its cardiovascular condition, but also maintains its muscle and bone density.
Jack says it’s important for all walkers to recognize their own range of motion (ROM) in the thigh, hamstring and calf muscles. The next step is to follow a walking posture that is both comfortable and helpful. “Try this technique—if you’re not self-conscious and don’t mind some snickering observers—of lowering your hips by just four to six inches when you walk,” he says. “This will make you really exercise the thigh muscles and the glutes.” In this approach, Jack suggests walking in a normal posture for 50 yards and then in the lower position for the next 50 yards.
Because he often trains clientele over the age of 50, Jack says keeping a heart rate at 65 to 80 percent of maximum for your age—which is calculated by multiplying the percentage by 220 minus your age—is optimal for an older walker. For younger participants, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a brisk pace as 3 miles per hour. If additional stability is needed, Jack suggests Nordic-style poles to assist with steady stepping. Most importantly, it is essential for people to stretch before, during and after taking a jaunt at a quick gait in order to get the most out of the exercise.
“Many people have—through sporting activities, injuries, genetics, et cetera—compromised joint structures, and each individual should evaluate their healthy capabilities before engaging in a walking exercise program,” he says. “Some basics are to not walk so fast that you can’t carry on a continued conversation.”
He says beginners should write out their goals and wear a heart monitor, as well as download phone apps that track walking distance and provide maps. The city itself offers a diverse landscape for changing up your routine.
“Laguna has every type of terrain available for any type of walking experience,” he says, mentioning level beaches with hard-packed or loose sand as well as rolling hills to very steep terrain off of Dartmoor Street and Alta Laguna Boulevard, at El Moro Canyon at Crystal Cove State Park and in Aliso and Wood Canyons Wilderness Park.
Sweat While Sight-Seeing
In addition to varied terrain, the city offers myriad visual treats for those willing to pound the pavement—a perk fully realized by local Janelle Naess through her company Laguna Beach Walks, which combines the health benefits of brisk walking with the pleasures of sight-seeing in Laguna.
“For me, the benefits of walking in Laguna Beach are that I can get exercise while watching the sun set over the ocean, pass amazing works of art, and chat with locals and visitors I encounter,” Janelle says. “Being out and enjoying this charming seaside town is a great way [to] build community and appreciate this historic artist colony.”
Janelle tries to follow the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans every week, which also suggests adults complete 75 minutes of vigorous activity, such as jogging. She notes, however, a downside to exercising at the quicker pace: “When jogging, I have to concentrate on my breathing and where I’m going, … [as] watching out for curbs, cars and other pedestrians keeps me busy,” Janelle says. “When I’m walking, I notice everything—the art, the flowers, the views. I’m more social with others and have time to literally stop to ‘smell the roses.’ ”
Through Laguna Beach Walks, Janelle offers maps for a variety of free self-guided walking tours for those who want to improve their health while enjoying the Laguna scenery. A popular one is set in Heisler Park, where guests can stroll along landscaped paths and take in the scenic ocean views, artwork, coastal blooms and restaurants, most notably the historic Urth Caffé, with an architectural design that combines Swiss chalet styling and Japanese curved bargeboards. In addition to improving her guests’ health, Janelle says checking out the town’s standout architecture enriches their visit.
“Laguna’s local landmarks have history, stories and people behind them,” she says. “Laguna’s public art, which includes artist-designed benches, sculptures, summer banners, winter palettes and murals is best seen up close during walks to really see the intricacies and work that went into each piece. Laguna Beach is like The Louvre. We have all seen pictures of it and the “Mona Lisa” housed inside, but to really experience it, you must come and see for yourself. Once you experience Laguna’s landmarks, art and breathtaking ocean views, it will be in your heart forever.
“One of the most recognizable and often photographed local landmarks is our lifeguard tower at Main Beach, which was built in the 1920s,” she explains. “Another historical local landmark is a statue of the greeter at The Old Pottery Place. [It depicts] Eiler Larsen, who stood on Coast Highway from the 1940s through the early 1970s and waved to all who passed by.”
There are also boutiques to be seen on Janelle’s HIP District Walk, which includes The Old Pottery Place as well as The English Garden Fine Florals building, with Tudor-style architecture that has graced Laguna since 1936. On the other hand, the Downtown Walk is a treat for city strollers as they roam Broadway and Ocean and Forest avenues, visiting all the shops and restaurants—such as the Normandy-style Lumberyard restaurant—as well as Laguna College of Art & Design in the canyon.
Should walkers need a break, they can take in the scenic views from Monument Point in Heisler Park or the Brooks Street lookout, where surfers and boogie boarders ride the waves and local artists paint their latest masterpieces. Coastal blooms serve as a treat for both the eyes and the nose, including agave attenuata, also known as the “foxtail” plant, and red hot pokers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Wildflowers are also on the itinerary during Janelle’s Fitness Walk up Park Avenue, which is a rigorous tour that includes views of Laguna’s middle and high schools, modern-style houses and caves before ending with an expansive ocean view near the top. More than just a proactive exercise, this type of brisk walking is a frame of mind and path to a healthy lifestyle.
“Laguna Beach is a walking town,” Janelle says. “With congested streets and hilly topography, walking is the best mode of transportation in this small seaside artist colony.”
—Written by Peter A. Balaskas | Photos by Jody Tiongco