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Adding weight adds a ton to your walk regardless of age

Back then, I didn’t know it had a name. Only that the antidote for this unpleasant, antsy feeling was the catharsis that comes from really hard exercise.

But there was a problem with doing that.

My right hand was in a splint; my left, wrapped in gauze to safeguard 11 stitches. I did know, though, I could ride a bike affixed to a wind trainer if I sat fully upright and pedaled hands-free.

That’s how I had exercised for three days after the bicycle crash on an oily steel-grate bridge and before yesterday’s surgery to piece together the bones below the right pinky finger that had been, according to the surgeon’s assistant, shattered like glass. But I had not been able to ride very hard in that position - something both my body and mind now needed.

That need eliminated walking around Palmerton as my workout. Or so I thought.

After all, I was a bike racer, not a town walker. When the accident occurred in late May 2008, I had been doing so once or twice a weekend for most of the spring and riding about 140 miles any weekend I wasn’t.

Then a thought occurred to me. I had a backpack, barbell plates, and a father who stayed the night. So I had dad add three 10-pounders to the backpack (two 25’s just wouldn’t fit) and help me put it on.

Then I walked up and down the hilly side streets of Palmerton as fast as I could for 90 minutes.

That solved one exercise problem - and created another, albeit good, one. My legs, unaccustomed to walking that long and with extra weight, were extremely sore the next day.

While you may not consider extreme leg soreness a good problem, you may want to consider a more moderate form of the workout 17 million or so on social media now call rucking. In the not-too-distant future, bad weather could keep your exercise indoors for long stretches of time, weather so bad that when it breaks it’s still not smart to ride or run on the roads.

But you’ll still feel that urge to get outside. And if you want more of a workout than a walk provides, you could ruck or wear a weight vest.

While the difference between the two isn’t great, there is one.

When I walked with barbell plates in a backpack designed to carry school books, I was technically rucking - just not using a heavy-duty rucksack to do so. In their May 2022 Healthline article about rucking, Travis Edwards, PT, MPT and Saralyn Ward say using dumbbells, kettle bells, sandbags, rocks, or even bottles of water with a backpack works just fine.

However, they stress “for best comfort . . . secure the weight as best as you can so that it doesn’t move or bounce around. Keep your straps tight and the weight high on your back.”

That’s what I found tough to do that day using a school backpack - especially on steep declines - yet when I did nearly the same walk years later with a weight vest, that was not an issue.

But you may take issue with purchasing something that could cost a bit more than $100 just to keep from going stir-crazy once or twice a year, and rightfully so. If you buy a weight vest, though, you can use it for much more.

Like a tough-as-you-want leg workout. While using a weight vest certainly makes all variations of squats, step ups, and lunges safer because your hands are now free and provide additional balance, that also allows you to adopt a how-low-can-you-go (or high) mentality during the movements - which certainly notches up the intensity.

Or a great at home cardio session - without needing a treadmill, rower, elliptical, or stationary bike. Either tax your heart and your legs by walking up and down your basement stairs or walk outside.

And benefit from the additional cal burn wearing the weight vest while walking provides - even when compared to running.

The aforementioned Healthline article cites US Army research that shows a 180-pound person rucking with 35 pounds and at a 4-mile-per-hour pace for 3.7 miles burns 162 more calories than if that person ran the same distance at a 6-mile-per-hour rate “vestless.”

If you’re no longer a youngster and wondering if weight vest workouts are too hard for you, take heart in a study published in January 2019 by the Journal of Clinical Medicine.

In it, 11 participants between the ages of 65 and 74 worked out on their own wearing a weight vest while following an “individualized progressive step exercise program” for six weeks. Compared to the participants’ pretests, the posttests showed on average an 11% increase in lower-limb power, a 9% increase in stair-climb time, and a 10% improvement in stair-climbing power.

Increases substantial enough that the paper ends by suggesting such training “has the potential to prolong independence and prevent age-related health conditions such as sarcopenia.”