Don’t underestimate the benefits of walking. With the availability of various fitness fads and gym memberships, walking as a form of exercise is often overlooked. With a comfortable and supportive pair of shoes, walking is a simple and affordable way to get in shape. It also yields lasting benefits to the bones and joints, including toning muscles, maintaining bone mass, and slowing the development of arthritis.
“Sometimes the hardest part of working out is getting started,” said orthopaedic surgeon and AAOS spokesperson Carolyn Hettrich, MD. “Walking requires minimal preparation, but yields significant benefits. Establish a routine by incorporating at least 30 minutes a day for five days a week.”
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) recommends the following safe walking tips:
- Choose shoes that support the arch and elevate the heel slightly. There should be stiff material surrounding the heel (the heel counter) that keeps your heel from turning in or out or wobbling. The toe box should be roomy but not too long.
Starting Your Program
- Warm up by walking as you normally would for five minutes, then pick up the pace to whatever speed gets your heart beating faster and your lungs breathing deeper. Keep up the faster pace for about 15 minutes.
- While you walk:
- Swing your arms
- Keep your head up, back straight, and abdomen flat
- Point your toes straight ahead
- Take long strides, but do not strain
- Cool down by walking at your warm-up speed again for five more minutes. Do gentle stretching exercises after your walk.
- Repeat the above routine three or four days a week, with days for rest in between. After two weeks, add five minutes to the strenuous part of your walk. Keep adding five minutes every two weeks as you gradually build strength and endurance.
- Another way to build fitness with a walking program is to use one to five pound weights. Using weights in each hand gives your upper body a better workout.
- To increase lower body stability while walking, consider using walking sticks or poles. They also help to reduce the impact on your legs, knees, ankles, and feet.
- During exercise, be sure to keep a water bottle handy to prevent dehydration. Drink one pint of water 15 minutes before you start walking, and another pint after you cool down. Have a drink of water every 20 minutes or as needed while you exercise.