The health benefits of walking have been widely researched. It can reduce the risk of diabetes, strengthen the heart, improve brain function, maintain bone density in the hips, improve symptoms of depression, and reduce cancer risk, to name just a few.
A recent study showed that walking just 10 minutes after meals helped people with diabetes to reduce average blood sugars by over 20%. A bit more effort is required for heart and bone health, and this is where you might walk differently than you do just getting from point A to point B.
If you choose to begin walking to get physically fit here are some tips and things to consider:
• When walking for fitness, pay attention to your posture and form. Make sure you are striding upright and using your arms to help propel you down the road. With each step your heel should strike the ground first and roll forward with your toe propelling you to the next step.
• Speaking of foot strike, make sure you select a shoe made for walking. You need something that fits well, with the right kind of cushioning and support for your foot type. Walking for long distances in a poorly designed or fitting shoe can create or exacerbate injuries to feet, knees, and hips. You might want to find a store with educated salespeople who can help you select a good pair.
• You can increase the intensity of your workout by increasing your speed, finding hills to climb, using handheld poles, or by adding some weight in the form of a weighted vest or small hand-held weights. I don’t recommend ankle weights as they can interfere with your balance.
One of the benefits of walking is that it can be done anywhere. We are lucky to have some great paths and trails in our area, but if you are going to rely on walking as your workout you need to have a backup plan for poor weather. In our area, you can walk in the mall, the college, or hit the treadmill at any number of fitness facilities. If you can’t, or don’t want to, get out of the house, you can find walking workouts on DVD or YouTube. My personal favorites are Leslie Sansone and Jessica Smith.
As with any form of physical activity, if you are just starting out you should go slow. Start with a 5- or 10-minute walk every day and gradually increase your time and distance.