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Walking for Your Health

Licking Memorial Health SystemsWalking is a great way to improve or maintain overall health.  Just 30 minutes every day can increase cardio vascular and pulmonary (heart and lung) fitness, strengthen bones, improve balance, reduce excess body fat, and boost muscle power and endurance.  Walking improves management of ailments such as hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol and joint and muscular pain or stiffness.  It also can reduce the risk of developing conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and some cancers.  It is important to note that walking offers so many benefits that any amount, even an extra three to five minutes daily, is a valuable step toward better health.

Walking is low impact, requires minimal equipment, can be performed at an individual pace any time of day, and does not require any special training.  It is a weight-bearing exercise, meaning an individual carries their body weight throughout the workout.  A great form of physical activity for people who are overweight, elderly, or who have not exercised in a long time, walking does not pose the risks associated with more vigorous forms of exercise.

For most healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity a week.  Physical activity can be spread throughout the week.  The guidelines also recommend strength training exercises of all the major muscle groups at least twice a week.

Physical activity does not have to be vigorous or lengthy in order to improve your health.  A recent study of inactive women found that even a low level of exercise – around 75 minutes per week – improved their fitness levels significantly, when compared to a non-exercising group.  Physical activity built into a daily lifestyle plan is one of the most effective ways to assist with weight loss and maintain a healthy weight.  For example, choose the stairs instead of the elevator or walk to local shops.  If riding public transportation, get off one stop earlier and walk to work or home.  Take the dog, or your neighbor’s dog, for a walk.  This can further be achieved by making walking part of a routine at the same time each day.  The same amount of energy is used, no matter the time of day, so determine when it is most convenient.  Varying the path or walking with friends can help make it a regular activity.  There also are various clubs, venues and strategies to make walking an enjoyable and social part of one’s lifestyle.  Additionally, some people find that tracking their progress by recording distances in an activity diary or physical activity app is motivating.  Another option is to use an electronic device such as a pedometer to calculate steps and distance.  Remember to include warm up, cool down and stretch exercises in the routine.

To reap the health benefits that walking provides, try to walk for at least 30 minutes as briskly as possible on most days of the week.  Comfortable conversation is still possible during a ‘brisk’ walk.  If it is too difficult to walk for 30 minutes at one time, do regular, small bouts (5 or 10 minutes) three times per day and gradually build up to longer sessions.  Beginners should keep in mind that any walking above and beyond navigating daily tasks is helpful.  These few additional minutes easily can be added by choosing a further parking spot or alternating sides of the grocery store while selecting your items.

Walking is a low-cost and effective form of exercise.  However, the wrong type of shoe or walking action can cause foot or shin pain, blisters and injuries to soft tissue.  Make sure shoes are comfortable, with appropriate heel and arch supports.  A firm heel and thick flexible soles will cushion feet and absorb shock.  Take light, easy steps and make sure the heel touches down before the toes.  Whenever possible, walk on grass rather than concrete to help absorb the impact.  However, maneuvering on uneven ground can be challenging for beginners.  Safety should be the top priority, so be certain to achieve a consistent, balanced gait before trekking off a flat surface.  Wear comfortable clothes and gear appropriate for various types of weather.  Avoid paths with cracked sidewalks, potholes, low-hanging limbs or uneven turf.  If walking outdoors after dark, wear bright colors or reflective tape for visibility.

This simple habit, which also can be one of the most enjoyable parts of your day, is a phenomenal health tool.  Walking has been found to trigger an anti-aging process and even help repair old DNA, helping to prevent dementia.  It helps to boost vitamin D and increase circulation and oxygen supply to every cell in the body, making it one of the best natural energizers.  Ultimately, walking makes you happy, releasing endorphins while reducing stress and anxiety.  Consult your physician before starting any new exercise program.

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