Walk your way to health

As the days become longer and the weather warms up, people start to think about summer activities. Those extra pounds that crept on during the holidays are more noticeable when they’re not hidden by fleece jackets and baggy rain parkas. Now might be a good time to begin a walking program to shed that extra weight.

Walking 30 to 60 minutes every day at a moderate pace burns fat, lowers blood pressure, and strengthens bones, muscles and joints. It may help reduce the risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, colon and breast cancers, and osteoporosis.

Some people use a clock to measure their progress, adding minutes to their walk time gradually. It can also be helpful to use a pedometer or step counter to keep track of the distance covered, beginning slowly with 2000 or 3000 steps a day. The advantage of wearing a pedometer is that it can count all the walking completed in a day, not just the steps during an exercise time.

If motivation is a problem, consider finding a walking buddy. Many people will walk longer when it is combined with an interesting chat or some friendly competition with a friend. Dog owners have a live-in walking partner, too.

Here are some tips to get started on a walking program:

  • Contact your doctor for a consultation or a checkup if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, don’t currently exercise or are over 65.
  • Get fitted for a good pair of shoes. Many walkers find running shoes work well for them.
  • Dress In layers so you can remove a layer if you become warm and put it back on if you cool off.
  • Carry water if you plan to walk in warm weather or walk for more than an hour. Don’t forget water for the dog!
  • Start with reasonable goals. Slowly build up to a longer distance.

If you do experience pain in your feet, ankles, knees or back, ease up for a day to see if that helps. If you see swelling or bruising, you can treat it yourself with rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE), but if the condition persists after 48 hours, make an appointment with a specialist. PacMed podiatrists can treat your foot and ankle issues and our sports medicine and orthopedic providers can provide expert opinions about leg, knee and hip pain.

Avoid these walking mistakes:

  • Looking down at your feet while walking. This can lead to back, neck and shoulder problems. Instead, keep your chin up and your eyes focused 10–20 feet ahead.
  • Leaning forward or backward. Stand up straight and tall with relaxed shoulders, pull in your abdominal muscles and tilt your pelvis slightly forward.
  • Taking extra long steps (overstriding). Take shorter, quicker steps and push off with your back foot to help prevent shin splints.
  • Not moving your arms. Swing your arms to add power and speed to your walk. Bend the arms at 90 degree angles.