Walking is Healthy

Headlines, Natural Healing and Prevention with Dr. Joseph Russo — By on April 11, 2011 8:48 AM

Walking is something that we as humans take for granted and, without realizing it, some of us actually walk the equivalent of several miles per day. Walking is a low-impact exercise that can be used as a stepping stone to higher levels of cardiovascular activities. It’s natural, safe, and healthy.

Also, for the most part, it’s free.

Walking can assist in lowering your bad cholesterol and raising your good cholesterol. It can help lower your blood pressure, reduce your weight, tone your muscles, and help lower your blood sugars if you are a diabetic. Additionally, walking helps to improve your circulation and lung capacity while combating depression and anxiety.

Should a person prepare for a walk?

This sounds like a silly question but the older you get the less agile your body is, unless of course, you exercise on a regular basis. Most sources recommend a warm up for any strenuous physical activity. If you plan on speed walking or walking with a brisk pace then it would be a great idea to warm up. By warming up I mean walking slowly for 5 to 10 minutes, then speeding up the pace. Additionally, some light stretching may also be beneficial.

What about equipment such as walking shoes and socks?

It should be a law in America that anyone who is going to begin a walking program must wear supportive and comfortable footwear. Sports medicine and podiatry practices are full of people who have sore and painful feet because of improper fitting and poorly supportive footwear. Choose a shoe that is made for walking such as a “walking” shoe or a “cross training” shoe.  But most important, the shoe that you choose must feel comfortable when you try it on in the store. Do not, I repeat, do not let an inexperienced shoe sales person tell you that the shoe you are about to buy will stretch, adapt to your foot and then feel comfortable. While part of this statement may be true, it’s not the correct advice. Your walking shoes should feel great from day number one!

Additionally, you should wear socks to prevent blisters. Some people can and do walk without socks and they don’t develop blisters. All I can say is that they have been blessed by God, because they are the exception rather than the rule. Blisters are painful!

I recommend thick socks because there is more padding between your foot and the shoe. I personally favor cotton socks because they absorb sweat well. Feet sweat a lot, approximately the equivalent of one quart of water per day.

When I was in high school my homeroom teacher, who was also the soccer coach, always wore sweats, running shoes and two pairs of socks. He was a little odd and the fact that he wore four socks each day made him a stand out. One day I got up enough nerve to ask him why he did this four sock thing and surprisingly he had a logical explanation. He said that the outer sock wicks the moisture from the inner sock and this keeps the sock closest to your foot more dry. And to this day, I believe and embrace that philosophy and I wear two pair of socks when I play basketball, walk or run.

That being said, it’s a good idea to decide if you are a one or a two sock person prior to purchasing new walking shoes. Then, when it comes time to buy walking shoes, you would need to wear either one or two pair of socks while trying on the shoes. Also, experts suggest that a person should shop for shoes at the end of a full day because the opinion is that a person’s feet swell a little and this would be a better time to size a shoe.

How should one properly fit walking shoes?

Firstly, I will say that it is not mandatory that a person purchase a specific “walking” shoe to begin a walking program. However, a “walking shoe” may provide much greater comfort and/or support should one embark on a walking program.  .  So any comfortable shoe, tennis shoe, or sneaker could work. However, if you decide to buy a shoe designed for walking, make sure your toes have enough room to wiggle. Also, make sure your heel has a snug fit and that there is ample heel cushioning.  If you have a high arch, you may benefit from an arch support insert which can be purchased online or at almost any store that sells shoes. Or you may benefit from a custom molded orthotic insert for your shoe. If you have weak ankles then you might try a high top shoe for additional support.  I would also look for a walking shoe that is breathable, possibly one with a mesh component.

Some shoe experts say that a person who plans a walking regimen should avoid purchasing a “running” shoe because most if not all running shoes have a large amount of heel cushion which tends to tilt a person forward who is wearing the shoes while walking.  Lastly, as I have previously mentioned, whatever type of walking shoe you decide on, the shoe must feel great while you are wearing it in the store.  Good luck

Should one have a plan for walking as an exercise or a walking program?

The goal of any exercise or weight loss plan is to make the elements of that activity a part of your daily routine. Every single successful diet book ever published espouses life style change for results. Life style change, with relation to walking, means incorporating walking into your daily routine.  An easy to follow plan is a great start. Let’s say that you’re a female in your fifties who does not walk regularly and would like to get started on a walking program for fitness, muscle tone and weight loss.

After investing in a pair of comfortable walking shoes, plan a short walk of about 5 minutes on  mostly flat terrain.  Wear a watch or keep track of time on your cell phone. After completing five minutes of walking, assess your situation. If you feel very winded then five minutes is your starting point and this should be your goal time for three walks per week for the first week. If five minutes of walking feels easy for you then clearly your next walk should be longer, say ten to fifteen minutes.

Researchers at the Mayo Clinic Foundation for Medical Education and Research suggest that you should increase your walk time each week by six minutes or by two minutes per day. Each week you can increase your walk time provided you do not become short of breath or have any type of chest pain. The ultimate goal, according to the Mayo Foundation, would be to reach a walk time of 30 minutes per day, three days per week. Other reputable sources suggest five days per week of walking. Many sources even recommend walking at a quick pace to further challenge your cardiovascular system.

As always, if you have a heart problem or other medical condition, you should be cleared by your physician before embarking on any strenuous activity.

Patients often ask about stretching. What about stretching? There is not any clear cut evidence that stretching is beneficial prior to walking. Common sense may suggest otherwise. Typical stretching may include hamstring, calf muscle, thigh and low back stretches.

Keep Motivated!

Some people terminate their walking program after only a few weeks because they only have time to walk one day per week and they assume that walking only one day per week can’t possibly provide any benefit. That is simply not true.

Don’t quit because you can’t walk at least three days per week!

Even if an average weight person walks one time per week, at a moderate pace for about 30 minutes, they will have travelled about 1.5 miles and burned about 150 calories,not to mention they are recruiting muscle fibers, releasing endorphins (natural hormones from your brain that improve your mood), and contributing to raising their basal metabolic rate (the rate at which your body burns calories while at rest.) All of these benefits are extremely important and they would not have occurred if that person did not walk that one time per week. In some climates, Winter can be a very challenging time to walk because of the weather. If you are subject to these conditions then consider walking in malls (some malls open their doors early in the winter months for walkers) or on a treadmill or at an indoor track.

How many calories are burned while walking?

Most of the literature concerning walking suggests that if you are a certain weight and you walk at a certain speed for a certain distance then you will burn a certain number of calories. While this may be generally true it does not hold true for all people. You have been hearing it all your lives, human beings are unique and we are all different. We all burn calories differently. Please don’t get hung up on the calories burned per mile or hour concept.  The most important thing is to stick with your walking program! Do not give up. You will burn calories and you will tone your muscles and you will lose weight and you will become healthier. And as I have mentioned earlier, it’s not just calories burned, its muscle fibers recruited, endorphins released and an increase in your BMR (basal metabolic rate). If you are the type of person that needs documentation to reinforce  your calorie burning goals, a decent calorie burning chart can be found at the website: About.com/walking. I would use the table as a very rough guide for calorie burn during walking. I personally think that the table underestimates the number of calories burned per mile.

Is there a certain way to walk that is better for you or that will avoid injuries?

For most of us, walking comes quite naturally and there is not much more to add. However, good posture is always recommended. Try to keep your head and spine straight, try not to lean too far forward or too far backward. Also, try to keep your shoulders and arms relaxed and allow them to move naturally. Most importantly, get out there and walk.

Should you track your progress?

I think that it’s a great idea to track your progress. It adds another dimension and/or goal to a walking program. For example, creating a goal of walking thirty miles per month is a great way to keep motivated. I have patients who have decided to keep track of the miles hey have walked in interesting ways. One patient boasted that he walked  2,181 miles which is the approximate length of the Appalachian Trail. It was his goal to walk the length of the trail no matter how long it took. Another goal could be to walk the equivalent of the distance of the Great Wall or the distance from Miami to Key West. The possibilities are endless and just think about the dinner conversation that you could share.

So get healthy and take a walk today.

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