Benefits of Exercise Walking
The fundamental health benefits of exercise walking are many. Metabolically, it helps control weight, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. A brisk walk can burn up to 100 calories per mile or 300 calories per hour. Walking is the perfect complement to a sensible diet to lose weight and keep it off.
Walking improves cardiovascular fitness. As an aerobic exercise, walking gets the heart beating faster to transport oxygen-rich blood from the lungs to the muscles. The heart and lungs grow more efficient with a regular walking regimen, reducing blood pressure and the resting heart rate. Walking is even a central element of medical rehabilitation. A regular walking regimen facilitates recovery from many ailments, including heart attack.
For people with poor circulation to the arms and legs, walking can increase the size and improve the efficiency of the tiny vessels that supply blood for cellular respiration. Anyone over the age of 40 years of age diagnosed with poor circulation and/or problems with weight, respiration, blood pressure, pulse rate, or cholesterol should see a doctor before beginning exercise walking. The same goes for diabetics, smokers, or people with preexisting injuries or a family history of heart problems.
The ideal walking shoe should be stable from side to side, well cushioned, and it should enable you to walk smoothly. Many running shoes fit all of these criteria well, and for most people are acceptable for a walking program.
However, there are specialty walking shoes that may work well for you. These tend to be slightly less cushioned, yet not as bulky, and lighter than running shoes.
Most important, whether you are wearing a walking or running shoe, is that it must feel stable to you. Either type of shoe is acceptable if it works well with your foot mechanics, providing cushioning and stability.
If you have bunions or other special considerations, consult your podiatrist about the best shoe for you. If you have prescription inserts, substitute your insert for the existing one (most shoes have a removable insole) to make sure it will fit properly, if possible.
Good general foot care must be maintained if you plan to subject your feet to a walking regimen. Wear thick, absorbent socks (acrylic is preferable to cotton); dry feet well after bathing, paying special attention to the toes, and use powder before putting on shoes. Nails should be cut regularly, straight across the toe.
Podiatrists warn that self-treatment of corns and calluses with over-the-counter remedies before starting to walk can do more harm than good. Serious maladies like bunions and hammertoes absolutely should be evaluated by a podiatric physician before you begin to walk for aerobic exercise.
If blisters develop, self-treatment by opening the blister with a sterilized needle and draining the fluid is acceptable. Do not remove the “roof” of the blister. Cover the treated blister with antibiotic ointment to guard against infection.
Before you get going, a series of loosening-up exercises will help alleviate any muscle stiffness or pulled muscles that may be ahead of you. Consult your podiatrist for some specific ways to loosen up the heel cords (achilles and calf) and thigh muscles (quadriceps in front and hamstrings in back).
Take five deep breaths for each slow stretch and hold the stretched muscle firm without bouncing. After every walk, stretch again to improve circulation and decrease buildup of lactic acid, the chemical byproduct that causes muscles to ache.
Setting appropriate goals is vital to a successful walking program. First, make walking a habit. Start slowly, with five or 10-minute walks three to five times a week. As walks get longer, their frequency can be adjusted.
Before you know it, you’ll be making time for weekly walks wherever you are. But don’t overdo it. Starting too quickly and getting injured or uncomfortably sore can sour you on the whole idea before it’s had a chance to work its magic on your mind and body.
Start your walks slowly, and gradually work up to a brisk speed that will cover a mile in 15 minutes (that’s four miles per hour). Measure a one-mile stretch, record your time, and see how you improve as the weeks go by.
To get significant benefits from walking, you must eventually be able to walk 20 minutes at a brisk pace without stopping. Walks shouldn’t last more than an hour. Calculate your week’s total walking time in minutes, and then try to increase it by 10 percent each week. A starting regimen should involve walking at least three times per week, but never exceeding five times a week. Walking every day denies the body the rest time it needs to repair minor injuries and could lead to more serious ones.
- Start easy and build up your distances slowly.
- Don’t forget to stretch regularly.
- Fit your shoes with the socks that you plan to wear during your walking.
Striving for physical fitness is not to be taken lightly. The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports cautions that unless you are convinced of the benefits of fitness and the risks of unfitness, you will not succeed. Patience is essential. Don’t try to do too much too soon; give yourself a chance to improve.
As you exercise, pay attention to what your body, including your feet, tells you. If you feel discomfort, you may be trying to do too much too fast. Ease up a bit or take a break and start again at another time. Drink fluids on hot days or during very strenuous activities to avoid heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
Before you start a fitness program, you should consult a physician for a complete physical and a podiatric physician for a foot exam. This is especially so if you are over 60, haven’t had a physical checkup in the last year, have a disease or disability, or are taking medication. It is recommended that if you are 35-60, substantially overweight, easily fatigued, smoke excessively, have been physically inactive, or have a family history of heart disease, you should consult a physician.
Once you have been cleared to begin exercise, your first goal is to make physical activity a habit. The goals for your activity program, at whatever level of fitness you presently have, are (a) 30 minutes of exercise, (b) four times a week, (c) at a comfortable pace. Stay true to these goals, and you will become fit.
For your fitness success, you should wear the right clothes and the proper shoes. Wear loose-fitting, light-colored and loosely woven clothing in hot weather and several layers of warm clothing in cold weather.
In planning for your equipment needs, don’t ignore the part of your body that takes the biggest beating — your feet. Podiatric physicians recommend sturdy, properly fitted athletic shoes of proper width, with leather or canvas uppers, soles that are flexible (but only at the ball of the foot), cushioning, arch supports, and room for your toes. They also suggest a well-cushioned sock for reinforcement, preferably one with an acrylic fiber content so that some perspiration moisture is “wicked” away.
Because of the many athletic shoe brands, and styles within those brands, you may want to ask a podiatrist to help you select the shoe you need. Generally speaking, athletic shoes are available in sport-specific styles or cross-training models.
The importance of foot care in exercising is stressed by the American Podiatric Medical Association. According to the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, an APMA affiliate, people don’t realize the tremendous pressure that is put on their feet while exercising. For example, when a 150-pound jogger runs three miles, the cumulative impact on each foot is more than 150 tons.
Even without exercising, foot problems contribute to pain in knees, hips, and lower back, and also diminish work efficiency and leisure enjoyment. It is clear, however, that healthy feet are critical to a successful fitness program.
Further evidence for the necessity of proper foot care is the fact that there are more than 300 foot ailments. Although some are hereditary, many stem from the cumulative impact of a lifetime of abuse and neglect and, if left untreated, these foot ailments can prevent the successful establishment of fitness programs.
The human foot is a biological masterpiece. Like a finely tuned race car or a space shuttle, it is complex, containing within its relatively small size 26 bones (the two feet contain a quarter of all the bones in the body), 33 joints and a network of more than 100 tendons, muscles and ligaments, to say nothing of blood vessels and nerves.
Foot problems are among the most common health ills. Studies show that at least three-quarters of the American populace experiences foot problems of some degree of seriousness at some time in their lives; only a small percentage of them seek medical treatment, apparently because most mistakenly believe that discomfort and pain are normal.
To keep your feet healthy for daily pursuits or for fitness, you should be familiar with the most common ills that affect them. Remember, though, that self-treatment can often turn a minor problem into a major one, and is generally not advisable. If the conditions persist, you should see a podiatrist.
These conditions may also occur because of the impact of exercise on your feet:
Athlete’s Foot: A skin disease, frequently starts between the toes, and can spread to other parts of the foot and body. A fungus that commonly attacks the feet because the warm, dark, climate of shoes and such places as public locker rooms foster fungus growth causes it. You can prevent infection by washing your feet daily in soap and water; drying carefully, especially between the toes; changing shoes and hose regularly to decrease moisture; and using foot powder on your feet and in your shoes on a daily basis.
Blisters: Caused by skin friction and moisture, often from active exercising in poorly fitting shoes. There are different schools of thought about whether to pop them. If the blister isn’t large, apply an antiseptic and cover with a bandage, and leave it on until it falls off naturally in the bath or shower. If it is large, it may be appropriate to pop the blister with a sterile needle, by piercing it several times at its roof, then to drain the fluid as thoroughly as possible before applying an antiseptic, and bandaging. If the area appears infected or excessively inflamed, see your podiatrist. Keep your feet dry and wear a layer of socks as a cushion.
Corns and Calluses: Protective layers of compacted, dead skin cells. They are caused by repeated friction and pressure from skin rubbing against bony areas or against an irregularity in a shoe (another reason to have your shoes properly fitted). Corns ordinarily form on the toes and calluses on the soles of the feet, but both can occur on either surface. Never cut corns or calluses with any instrument, and never apply home remedies, except under a podiatrist’s instructions.
Heel Pain: Generally traced to faulty biomechanics which place too much stress on the heel bone. Stress also can result from a bruise incurred while walking or jumping on hard surfaces or from poorly made or excessively worn footwear. Inserts designed to take the pressure off the heel are generally successful. Heel spurs are bony growths on the underside, forepart of the heel bone. Pain may result when inflammation develops at the point where the spur forms. Spurs can also occur without pain. Both heel pain and heel spurs are often associated with plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the long band of supportive connective tissue running from the heel to the ball of the foot. There are many excellent treatments for heel pain and heel spurs. However, some general health conditions — arthritis and gout, for example — also cause heel pain.
A doctor of podiatric medicine can make an important contribution to your total health and to the success of your fitness program. While podiatrists focus on foot care, they are aware of total health needs and should be seen as part of your annual medical checkup. If your foot ailments are related to a more generalized health problem, your podiatrist will consult with your primary physician or refer you to an appropriate specialist.