Walk your way to better health

(Originally published in the Medavie Blue Cross Health News newsletter)

Do you want to lose weight, reduce stress, sleep better, strengthen your heart and lungs, tone muscles and reduce your risk of osteoporosis and other diseases? You don’t have to spend six hours a day at the gym to achieve these results. All you have to do is walk. And spring is an excellent time to establish a walking routine that will keep you active throughout the year.

Walking is a wonderful form of exercise with many health and fitness benefits. It has a low rate of accidents and injuries and, best of all, it fits into anyone’s lifestyle. And, except for a good pair of shoes, no costly gear or membership fees are required.

Customize your walking program

Remember that everyone is different, so how fast and how far you should walk depends on your physical condition as well as your health and fitness goals. Be sure to consult your physician before beginning any exercise program.

To get the most out of walking, you’ll need to move at a fairly good pace and do it a minimum of three times a week. As you build strength and endurance, steadily increase your distance and pace. Be patient_your strength and endurance will increase if you stick with it.

Your walk should always start with a warm-up. Five minutes of slow to moderate walking should do it. And it should end with a cool-down followed by stretching.

If you’re walking outdoors, watch for cars, bikes, potholes and other hazards and don’t forget to wear sunscreen. If you’re concerned your newly established walking routine may be disrupted by bad weather, consider joining one of the walking clubs hosted by area shopping malls.

Wearing a pedometer provides good incentive to continue your walking program. Not only will you get a sense of achievement from watching the steps add up, you can also use one day’s total steps to challenge yourself to walk a wee bit farther the following day.

About good walking shoes

Because the mechanics of walking are quite distinct from other activities, including running, you should consider purchasing a pair of shoes designed specifically for walking. Good walking shoes have several important features:

  • Material: Look for a shoe with either a leather or mesh upper. Leather offers support and durability while mesh provides maximum breathability.
  • Cushioning system: There should be ample heel and forefoot cushioning since walkers place most of their weight on these areas.
  • A firm but flexible sole: A walker’s toes bend and extend during the push-off of the walking stride; a shoe should allow for this movement but not be too pliable. Also choose a shoe with ample room in the toe box.
  • A good fit: As with all shoes, shop late in the day when your feet are at their largest. Spend some time walking around the store in the shoes; remember every foot is unique. If the shoes are not completely comfortable, don’t buy them … even if they are on sale!

So whether it’s a quiet evening stroll or a 10-kilometer power walk, remember that every step you take can be a step toward a healthier you.

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