Photo credit: Blas
Walking is a great choice for a physically active lifestyle, as it can be done almost anywhere and at any time and the only equipment required is a sturdy pair of shoes.
Benefits of Walking
Walking at a moderate to brisk pace (fast enough to increase your heart rate above resting, but not so fast that you are unable to carry on a conversation) improves your aerobic fitness by increasing the strength of your heart and lungs and keeping them working efficiently.
Walking at a moderate pace for 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week provides many of the health-related benefits of a physically active lifestyle, including lowering blood pressure, improving sleep, increasing energy level, slowing down the aging process, and reducing risk for disease. Studies have shown that by walking 10,000 steps a day (equivalent to about 5 miles), people begin to experience the health benefits of walking.
Walking is considered "low impact" since it puts very little strain on your bones and joints.
Walking is also considered a "weight-bearing" activity since it involves most of the major muscle groups in your legs, thighs, and buttocks. Not only can you increase the strength of these muscles by walking, you can also improve the strength and overall health of your bones.
Regular walking can help your body burn calories and increase your muscles. This can help you maintain or lose weight.
Tip: Keep a pair of walking shoes and socks in your car to take advantage of additional walking opportunities.
General Guidelines for Beginning a Walking Program
If you are new to walking, start out slowly and gradually increase both the minutes spent walking and the distance traveled. You may want to start out by walking for 10 to 15 minutes a few times a day. Increase your time so that you can achieve your goal by walking for 20 to 30 minutes at a time. Once you can achieve this goal, another goal is to challenge yourself to walk at three miles per hour or one mile in 20 minutes. Remember not to overdo it. When you are walking, you should be able to carry on a conversation. If you have any health or medical concerns, be sure to check with your physician prior to beginning any exercise routine.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothes and sturdy walking shoes (see tips for selecting shoes below).
- Make a plan. Where will you walk? How many days will you walk? How far or how long will you walk? Will you walk alone or with a friend?
- Spend at least 5 to 10 minutes "warming up" before you begin your walking session. Stretching your arm and leg muscles will help get blood flowing and allows your body to prepare for increased physical activity.
- Use proper walking posture. Walk tall with your head and chest up, shoulders down and relaxed, and your arms swinging naturally by your side.
- Keep your abdominal muscles tight to support your lower back.
- Let the heel of your foot touch the ground first, then roll your weight forward.
- Be sure to allow your body to "cool down" with a slower walking pace. Do some light stretches at the end of your walking session to help your heart and breathing rates return to normal.
- Drink plenty of water before, during, and after each session, especially in hot and humid weather.
- Most important, listen to your body. If it hurts or is uncomfortable, chances are that it is not the right activity for you.
Finding the Right Shoes
Selecting the proper footwear can make a big difference in how much you enjoy walking. Remember, you are looking for the overall comfort of the shoe. Without the proper support, ill-fitting shoes can cause pain anywhere in your body, especially in your feet, legs, knees, and hips. Here are a few tips for selecting a good walking shoe:
- Try on shoes at the end of the day when your feet are tired and swollen.
- Wear the same type of socks that you will be wearing on your walks.
- Your heel should fit firmly and without slipping and you should be able to wiggle all of your toes.
- If the shoes don't fit well in the store, don't assume that they will "break in" after wearing them.
- Be sure to try on both the left and right shoe. Test them out on both carpeted surfaces and hard surfaces before buying them.
American College of Sports Medicine (2016) and the Mayo Clinic (2016).
Prepared by Heather Baranoski, certified fitness wellness coach. Reviewed by Lynn James, extension educator. Revised by Laurie Welch, extension educator.