2014: Walk your way to perfect health

Experts generally agree that to be considered “active,” adults should try to take 10,000 steps every day. Wearing a pedometer is an easy way to track your progress.

Experts generally agree that to be considered “active,” adults should try to take 10,000 steps every day. Wearing a pedometer is an easy way to track your progress.

While fitness enthusiasts may urge the latest, trendiest exercise craze, many folks are returning to good, old-fashioned walking to help them feel great and get into shape.

Whether enjoying the wonder of nature, or simply the company of friends, walking can be a healthy, invigorating experience. And thanks to its convenience and simplicity, walking just might be right for you, too.

There are many benefits ... especially great health

You don't need to be a member of an expensive gym to go walking. Except for a good pair of walking shoes, it requires virtually no equipment.

On the other hand, a sedentary lifestyle has a debilitating influence on people's health as they age, so exercise is imperative. Walking accomplishes all of the following and more:

Improves cardiovascular endurance

Reduces risk of heart disease

Tones muscles of the lower body

Burns lots of calories: 80 if walking 2 miles per hour, and about 107 if walking 4.5 miles per hour

Choose your shoes

When starting a walking program, be sure to select the right shoes. Avoid choosing fashion over function when buying running shoes. Poor-fitting shoes can do more than hurt your stride; they can also lead to pain throughout the body.

Make sure the shoes you purchase fit properly. The balls of your feet should rest exactly at the point where the toe end of the shoe bends during walking.

Select shoes with plenty of cushioning in the soles to absorb the impact.

Shop for sneakers at the end of the day or after a workout when your feet are generally at their largest. Wear the type of socks you usually wear during exercise.

Try on and wear new shoes for at least 10 minutes at the store.

Once you have purchased a pair of shoes, don't walk them into the ground. Most experts agree that between 300 and 500 miles is optimal.

Getting Started

Walking just 12 minutes every other day can offer important health benefits. But, in order to increase your longevity, try to eventually work up to 30 minutes, five days per week. Experts generally agree that to be considered "active," adults should try to take 10,000 steps every day. Wearing a pedometer is an easy way to track your progress.

Here are some tips:  

Move your arms freely, in coordination with the opposite leg.

Don't stoop your head or look down while you walk. This will challenge the normal forward curve of your neck, which causes you to carry your weight improperly.

Don't carry weights or dumbbells while walking. They're better used as a separate exercise.

Expect a little soreness in the thighs and calves for the first week or two. If you experience more than soreness, check with your doctor.

Walk briskly, with "purpose." Simply sauntering, while relaxing and enjoyable, is not an effective form of cardiovascular exercise.

Be sure to consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program.

Walking surfaces

Some walking surfaces are better than others on your musculoskeletal system.

Walking on a cushioned or rubberized track is ideal, because the cushioning absorbs most of the impact of walking. Many recreation centers offer this type of track free of charge.

Grass is another good surface, but watch out for hidden dips or holes in the ground.

Walking on a surface with no give, such as concrete or a mall floor will not absorb much of the impact. If you do choose to walk on such a surface, be extra careful to select highly cushioned shoes.

While you may experience pain or injury in a particular area, such as a knee or a hip, the root of the problem may lie somewhere else. Injuries of this nature are not regional, or isolated, but systemic. A problem in the foot or ankle can create an imbalance in every step, leading to discomfort or injury that moves to the knees, hips, low back, or elsewhere. If you suffer from pain beyond typical muscle soreness, your doctor can diagnose and treat your pain injury and get you back into the swing of your walking routine. Your doctor can also help customize a wellness program that is right for you and has the expertise to help keep you in the mainstream of life.

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