With pieces of fitness equipment in almost every household, workout videos by the dozens available and attendance at gyms and health clubs at an all-time high, for most people the answer to getting more exercise is the old-fashioned one: Take a walk.
Deena Tidwell, health education assistant at North Mississippi Medical Center’s Wellness Center, says walking is one of the best and easiest ways to keep yourself fit or lose weight.
“Walking is the exercise of choice for many,” Tidwell said. “It’s convenience and adaptability to any lifestyle makes it one of today’s most popular fitness activities.”
Podiatrists and family physicians often recommend walking as a good exercise to strengthen your heart and lungs, improve circulation, reduce obesity and high blood pressure, and control cholesterol levels, among other benefits.
“You can burn between 85 and 100 calories per mile you walk,” she said.
Just 30 minutes a day of mild activity such as walking is all you need. You don’t even have to do it all at one time. Instead, you can scatter your workout throughout the day. Take a 15-minute walk at lunch, spend 10 minutes raking leaves and five minutes vacuuming.
You’re never too old
Walking knows no age limits. A recent study by Tufts University found that regular exercise helped people 90 years old and older move more comfortably and perform daily activities more easily, even when they are coping with chronic illness or are wheelchair bound.
Another study showed that a group of middle-aged men who walked at a pace between three and four miles per hour had the same cardiovascular improvements as men in the same age group who jogged for 30 minutes three times per week.
Even more impressive are the results of a 1991 study with a group of 70-year-old individuals who walked at least 30 minutes per day. This group had higher bone density than subjects who walked less than 30 minutes per day.
“Anyone who can walk can get plenty of exercise, no matter what their age,” Tidwell said. “It’s the most popular exercise going. People do not drop out of it, and it’s the type of activity that 90 percent of the population who are currently inactive will try.”
Before you start
Tidwell suggested stretching your muscles properly to avoid injuries when you walk, increase range of motion and reduce muscle soreness.
“Warm up by walking leisurely before you stretch,” she said. “Stretch your calves, front and back of the thighs, lower back and neck before and after walking. Spend more time on the post-walking stretches to work on flexibility. Pre-activity stretches help get your muscles ready to go.”
Tidwell said you can increase your workout by increasing your walking speed, walking on hills, alternating walking with intervals of jogging, or walking for longer periods of time.
Follow the sun
Sunshine brings out walkers by the droves, but Tidwell cautioned that care be taken during warm weather.
Following are suggestions from the American Council on Exercise:
– Stay well hydrated. Water is the best choice before, during and after walking.
– Try to walk during the cooler hours of the morning and evening if you can.
– Wear light, loose clothing that will reflect sunlight and “breathe.” Cotton is a good choice.
– Give your body several weeks to adjust to warmer weather by working out at lower intensities. Reduce your training heart rate by about 10 beats per minute.
The proper shoes
“When beginning a walking or running program, shoes are the most important thing to consider,” says Stacey Stokes, a registered physical therapist at NMMC’s Outpatient Rehabilitation Services. She explains that if you do not wear the proper shoes, injuries such as shin splints, plantar fascitis and knee pain, just to mention a few, may occur.
According to Stokes, just because a particular shoe is best for your walking buddy, it may not be for you. There are special features on shoes which accommodate the various foot types.
Do you need extra cushioning? Do you need additional support? These are important questions one needs to know when purchasing new shoes. The best walking shoe is a running shoe.
If you are starting a program or have an established program, evaluate your shoes before you proceed.
“You may pay a few dollars more for the right shoes, but in the long run you save money,” says Stokes. “Take care of your feet – they are the only pair you have.”
Getting in step
How you walk can be just as important as how often you walk, experts say. Here, from “Prevention” magazine are some tips on proper form:
-Slow down. To learn proper form slow your walking down for awhile and concentrate on how you are walking. Form first, speed second.
– To begin: As your heel contacts the ground, feel that connection firmly. Then roll your foot forward toward your toe and allow your foot to press into the ground. Try the entire heel-to-toe motion. Feel it holding and supporting you all the way up into your body.
-On the forward stride, as your heel makes contact with the ground, your leg will straighten on its own. Your toes should angle upward as your ankle flexes to allow your heel to touch down.
– The major source of power for moving forward comes from pushing off with the toe and the calf muscles of the trailing leg. Be careful not to bend forward from the waist. The power in your walking gait is directly related to your ability to stretch your trailing leg. Practice holding your trailing leg on the ground for an instant longer than you are accustomed. You should feel the foot push off at the ball joint, where the toes meet the foot.