Walking is one of the cheapest and easiest forms of exercise on the planet. Almost anyone can do it; just strap on your shoes and go.
But many people wonder, does walking actually “do” anything? Is it enough to make a difference in your health or do you have to do something more intense?
Dr. Jerry Gore, founder of the Center for Holistic Medicine, says walking is a wonderful way of getting exercise, especially if you’re not currently doing any type of aerobic activity at all.
In his book, Holistic Medicine, Dr. Gore says, “A sedentary lifestyle equals a higher rate of all-cause death.”
That’s why he stresses that it’s important to do any type of movement that gets you off the couch. “Patients are shocked that they can actually walk and dramatically drop their risk of mortality,” he says.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, walking can help improve your circulation, lose weight, strengthen your bones, improve your sleep, boost your endorphins, slow mental decline and more.
So what are some things to know before you go? We’ve got a list of all of the do’s and don’ts for fitness walking.
- Wear the right shoes
Since your shoes are really the only thing you need to invest in for walking, make sure you buy the right ones. Don’t buy running shoes, which are designed to absorb a lot of impact in the heel and the front of the foot. Instead, opt for walking shoes, which have less of a height difference between the back and front of the shoe and should have more flex in the front of the foot than running shoes do. Also, make sure your shoes aren’t too old. An average pair of shoes should last about 300 to 500 miles, but if you aren’t feeling as much support as you used to, it’s probably time for new shoes.
- Use proper form
In order to prevent injuries while you’re walking, make sure you watch your alignment. One of the biggest mistakes people make is looking down at their feet while they walk, which can strain your neck. Instead, remember to keep your head up, your spine straight and swing your arms back and forth (not across your body). Step on your heel first with each step and roll through the balls of your feet.
- Stretch after you walk
One of the biggest myths about fitness is that you should stretch before you exercise. In fact, this is not a good time to stretch because your muscles are cold and stiff. However, you do want to stretch after every workout to reduce soreness and increase flexibility. Some good ones to do after you walk are a hamstring stretch (extend your leg in front of you, flex your foot and lean forward, feeling a stretch on the back of your thigh), a calf stretch (bend one knee and straighten the other leg behind you with your calf on the floor), and a groin stretch (stand with your legs apart with one foot facing forward and lunge to the side).
- Walk after you eat
Another huge myth about exercise? That you can’t do it after you eat a big meal. Several scientific studies have recently debunked this myth and found that walking after a meal can actually aid in digestion and improve weight loss. A 2009 study showed that taking a 20-minute walk after dinner helped lower blood sugar levels in people with Type 2 diabetes. The bottom line: It’s better to get out and walk than sit on the couch.
- Add weights
Have you seen those walkers who strap weights to their wrists and walk aggressively down the track? Don’t follow their lead. Although it may be tempting to get more of a workout in during your walk, adding weights can actually strain your joints while you walk. Instead, use weights to do strength training exercises after your walk while you’re standing still.
- Do the same routine every day
Walking the same path every day not only gets boring, but you’ll get less of a workout from it over time as your muscles get used to the terrain. That’s why it’s important to try new paths once or twice a week. Walking outside will give you the best workout because you have to deal with small inclines and fight against the wind, but if you want to vary your routine in the colder months, you can always walk inside on a treadmill, on an indoor track or even at an indoor mall.
- Walk too slow
If you’re walking too slow, you’re missing out on all of the cardiovascular benefits of walking. In fact, according to an article in the New York Times, those who walk very slow (24 minutes or slower per mile) were 44 percent more likely to die than those who walked more quickly, no matter how often they walked. So how fast should you be going? In general, if you’re walking briskly, it should take you about 13.5 to 17 minutes to walk a mile. Another way to determine how hard you’re working is to either wear a heart rate monitor or simply focus on your breathing. You should be walking fast enough that you are breathing deeply, but not breathless.
So whether you want to walk with your dog, walk with your friends, or just get some needed alone time, just get out there and go!