The Benefits of Walking
The benefits of walking have been documented for decades. It can contribute to weight loss, improve mental health, and lengthen life. You don’t need a gym membership or expensive equipment, just two legs and a place to start. And the benefits of walking may surprise you. When correctly done, this low-impact exercise does a lot to help you stay fit without being hard on your joints.
Here are a few documented benefits of active walkers:
•30%–40% reduction in the risk of heart disease1
•50% reduction in the risk of premature death2
•20% reduction in the risk of stroke2
•Reduces your risk of breast cancer and type 2 diabetes1
•Elevates overall mood and sense of well-being3
Walking is a great form of exercise because you can do it anywhere. Take family, friends, or the dog and get some fresh air and exercise at the same time. Go to a designated trail, the beach, a park, or just through your neighborhood. Just make sure it’s a place you enjoy and is easy to get to.
It is a good idea to measure distances before you start, because this will allow you to focus on your form and still be able to meet a distance goal. And as with all forms of exercise, it is crucial to warm up first. Walk at your normal pace for about five minutes and then do some light stretching. After your walk, you’ll want to do the same thing—cool down for 5 to 10 minutes and stretch some more.
PROPER WALKING FORM
You may feel like you know all there is to know about putting one foot in front of the other, but there are actually a few things you may not be aware of that can help you get the most out of your walks and keep them as comfortable as possible.
Pay close attention to your posture as you walk. Good posture will help you walk more comfortably and easily, breathe easier, and avoid back pain. Stand up straight and keep your chin up, looking about 20 feet ahead of you. Support your stomach muscles by keeping your tummy tucked in. Walk in a fluid, rolling motion, striking the ground with your heel first and then rolling through to the toe. Also try and tuck in your behind and rotate your hips slightly forward. This will keep you from arching your back, which can bring discomfort during and after your walk.
Swinging your arms in the correct manner can give your walking more power and even burn more calories. Try to bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Keep them close to your body and don’t swing them diagonally. Swing back the arm opposite of the foot going back. Refrain from clenching your hands as well, it’s better to hold them loose in a partially closed curl. Avoid using hand or ankle weights, which put unnecessary pressure on your joints.
LENGTH AND TIME
Regarding how fast and long you should walk, the most important thing to do is listen to your body. A 20-year long Nurse’s Health Study found the majority of health benefits are obtained when walking 3 to 3.9 miles per hour, which is about 15 to 20 minutes per mile.1 Most studies also agree that walking for at least half an hour on most days of the week will help you attain desirable health benefits.2 If that’s too fast or too long for you to begin with, start out smaller and make a goal to work your way up to that point.
KEEP A TRACK RECORD
Keeping a record is one of the best ways to stay consistent with a walking routine. Record the dates and times you walk, as well as thoughts on the progress you’re making and how you feel afterwards. This way, you can track your progress and set goals for the future. If you do decide to go faster or longer, don’t increase your time or intensity by more than 10% per week.
Stepping outside and walking for better health is a safe, and social solution for improved health. With a good pair of sneakers, and some walking buddies, you’ll soon be enriching your life one step at a time.
*This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be prescriptive. If you have any health concerns, please consult your physician. Always consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
1 The Nurses’ Health Study (http://www.harvard.channing.com/nhs)
2 Utah Walks (http://www.utahwalks.org/whywalk.php)
3 AARP (http://www.aarp.org/health/fitness/walking)