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Walking Well: How to Hit the Streets without Wincing
July 05, 2005
It’s summer, and for many people, that means cookouts, vacations and outdoor excursions. The warmer weather also means dusting off those sneakers that have been hiding in the closet for months and enjoying strolls along the water, through scenic parks or participating in the numerous walks for charity and non-profit organizations held annually.
If you’re more couch potato than regular walker, don’t make the mistake of jumping right in and trying to keep pace with your more seasoned peers. Walking is wonderful for your health, but your body needs to be brought up to speed slowly if it’s been a long time.
It’s no secret than in the age of TiVo, Internet and SUVs, Americans aren’t exactly at the front of the line when it comes to wearing thin our shoes’ soles. In fact, according to physical therapist and American Physical Therapy Association member Teresa Schuemann, Americans take an average of 3,000 steps a day, while Europeans walk an average of 8,000-10,000 steps daily.
With more and more people eschewing pedestrian travel for cars and obesity, heart disease and stroke posing an ever-increasing threat to our overall health, Americans need to incorporate healthy changes into their lifestyles and exercise routines. “Walking is associated with a reduced risk of heart attack and Type 2 diabetes, as well as increased energy and muscle tone, stress reduction and weight control,” Schuemann said.
To encourage safe, healthy walking this summer, the APTA recently published a brochure filled with tips called “Walking for Exercise.” While they may seem intuitive, if overlooked, they can lead to discomfort or even injury. First and foremost, buy comfortable shoes. If they pinch or are too stiff in the store, imagine how they will feel half an hour into a walk. Make sure you cater to your foot’s arches; a flat foot needs a lot more support than a foot with a naturally high arch.
Though our fast-paced lifestyle may dictate otherwise, slow and steady really does win the race when you are beginning to walk regularly. Start at a leisurely pace – you should be able to hold a conversation without being winded – and gradually increase your speed from there. Remember that each person’s pace is different and you don’t need to match the speed of anyone else. Experts also suggest keeping a log to track the time and distance you walk so you can see your progress.
Hydration is important for any sort of physical activity, especially during the summer months when we spend more time outdoors in the heat. Don’t assume that if you don’t feel thirsty you don’t need water; exertion, temperature and walking conditions influence how much fluid the body needs. At the least, be sure to drink a minimum of 8 ounces of water every 30 minutes.
When it comes to pain, our bodies are pretty smart machines. If your body is sending you a signal that something is awry, listen to it. For example, if your knees, back or legs hurt disproportionately, do not assume it is simply because you may be out of shape. Consistent joint pain can be a sign of an irregular gait and can stress the joints, and may require an evaluation by a professional.
Lastly, consult with your physician before you begin a regular walking routine if you have underlying medical conditions. “Pre-existing medical conditions, such as high blood pressure or bone and joint aches, will negatively impact any exercise program – even walking – and need to be addressed before starting,” cautioned Schuemann.
And don’t forget – pick somewhere fun or interesting to walk! If you love the water, find a path near a pond or river or along the ocean. If you like company, find some friends and set up a regular schedule. If there is a charity you strongly believe in, look them up to see if they are sponsoring any walks in your area; preparing to help a worthy cause is great incentive.
|Get Ready to Walk:|
Buy comfortable sneakers – if they feel uncomfortable in the store, they won’t feel better after a mile or two.
Start slowly and work up to faster speeds and longer distances.
Stay hydrated – be sure to drink enough water and be sure to start drinking before you get thirsty.
Do not ignore pain. Even if aches and pains are small if they are consistent, they may require a doctor’s appointment.
If you are starting a walking program after a long period of no exercise, consult with your doctor before starting.
Remember to have fun – if you don’t enjoy the scenery or the company you probably won’t stick with the walking routine.
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