Take a Walk
Stepping up to better health
By Laneta Crighton
You’ve been taking steps for years, but when was the last time you headed out for a real walk? You should. Walking for health can increase life expectancy, lower the risk for diabetes and heart disease, reduce symptoms of depression and improve the chances of living independently in old age.
Even if you don’t exercise now, it’s not too late to walk your way to good health.
“After the very first time you walk, your body releases endorphins that elevate your mood,” says Kendahl Shortway, a health fitness specialist based in Florham Park, N.J. “As your physical condition improves, it’s common to want to exercise even more.”
If it’s been a while since you’ve exercised, start with a 10-minute walk two or three days a week and increase gradually. Aim for a speed that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat but still allows you to carry on a conversation. As your endurance improves, you can travel farther and faster. Many walkers eventually advance to running and other more strenuous forms of exercise over time.
The Surgeon General recommends walking briskly for 30 minutes, five days a week for good health. Can’t squeeze it into one session? Don’t worry. Studies have shown that multiple short walks are just as beneficial as longer ones and may be easier to stick with.
If you still need motivation, try recording steps with a pedometer. Sedentary individuals average only about 3,000 steps per day. The 10,000 Steps program encourages walking an additional 500 steps each day for one week, then adding 500 more the following week until you reach your goal of 10,000 steps a day.
Walking is a low-impact exercise that’s easy on the joints, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use precautions. Allow a few extra minutes for warm-up and cool down to prevent muscle injury and to condition your body for future walks.
Walk slowly during the first few minutes of your workout to warm muscles. Take high steps and swing your legs forward a few times before increasing speed and intensity. Near the end of your walk, slow your pace and allow your heart rate to decrease gradually. Finish with a few stretching exercises like toe touches and side stretches.
Walking is a great way to get in shape. It can build core body strength, improve posture and reduce lower back pain. If you have heart disease or other health problems, check with your doctor before starting a walking program.
Choose your shoes
Investing in a good pair of sneakers is important says Dr. Marc Klein, a Boca Raton, Fla., podiatrist who works with athletes.
“A sneaker that costs around $65 usually offers support and cushioning,” he says. “Below that, you generally get poorer quality construction. Anything priced higher offers similar support but even better cushioning.”
Dr. Klein advises trying on a minimum of five pairs each time you purchase sneakers and taking one shoe off while leaving one on. By rotating through each pair, you can compare comfort and support. Allow a thumbnail’s width between the longest toe and the end of the shoe for proper fit.
Being safe also means staying alert. One study showed that in 80 percent of pedestrian-vehicle accidents, the pedestrian was at fault. The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center suggests dressing in bright, reflective clothing and carrying a flashlight at night. Avoid distractions like headphones or talking on a cell phone, and always walk facing traffic. Try to make eye contact with drivers to ensure they see you.