Why Take a Walk?
MILLIONS of people seem to think that if they can’t join a spa and spend a lot of time working out, they might as well forget about health benefits from exercise. Yet, that isn’t true. Dr. Russell Pate of the University of South Carolina says: “I think we have to officially sanction the idea that a nice, comfortable walk around the block after dinner is a very desirable thing to do.”
But will a walk really do you that much good? Does walking have health benefits that are truly significant?
Walking Is Good Medicine
Greek physician Hippocrates viewed walking as “man’s best medicine.” In fact, there is an adage that says, “I have two doctors, my left leg and my right.” Is walking really that healthful?
Well, some studies suggest that people who walk consistently may develop fewer illnesses than people who are sedentary. The studies show that walking reduces the risk of heart disease and of having a stroke. It can fend off diabetes by improving the body’s ability to use insulin. It keeps bones strong, preventing osteoporosis. Walking builds strength, flexibility, and stamina. It supports weight loss and weight maintenance. Additionally, walking improves sleep, enhances mental function, and can even help to counteract depression.
Some years ago researchers at the University of Southern California reportedly found that a 15-minute walk brings more relief from anxiety and tension than a mild tranquilizer! Like other physical activities, walking triggers the release of endorphins, brain chemicals that relieve pain and stimulate relaxation, producing a sense of calm and well-being.
According to The Medical Post of Canada, even a leisurely stroll can produce health benefits. A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine reveals that walking as little as half a mile [800 m] a day reduces mortality. Recent studies suggest that exercising three times in a day, for 10 minutes each time, will do you almost as much good as exercising continuously for 30 minutes. So you might think about parking farther away from your destination and walking the rest of the way. Or you could go for a miniwalk sometime during the day.
Even greater benefits can come from brisk walking. Dr. Carl Caspersen of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, said: “Going from being sedentary to walking briskly for a half hour several days a week can drop your risk [of disease] dramatically.” And what is so good about walking is that people of all ages and practically all health levels can do it. Moreover, it doesn’t require special training or athletic skill—only a good pair of shoes.
Enjoy a Good Walk
Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing. For warmth, add layers that are easily shed. Use flexible, lightweight shoes with a cushioned low heel and roomy toe box. They should be somewhat larger than your usual dress shoe. If you plan to walk for more than half an hour and there will be no drinking water on your route, you may want to take a light container of water with you. Warm up by walking at an easy pace for the first five minutes. Maintain an upright posture, keeping the elbows and knees slightly bent and hands cupped, not clenched.
After warming up, fall into a natural, brisk stride in which the heel of the foot strikes the ground first, rolling through the step to the toes. Flexible shoes are thus needed. Does all this sound like a lot to remember? Relax—most people walk this way naturally. Your pace should allow you to carry on a full conversation without getting breathless. If you are new at walking, build up your time, distance, and speed gradually. Cool down by slowing your pace near the end of your walk.*
Increased heart and breathing rates are normal signs of exertion, as is mild-to-moderate sweating. You may feel some muscle aches and tenderness the first few days. Pay attention to your body’s response. If you feel as though you are pushing too hard, slow down or take a short break. However, if you experience such symptoms as tightness or pain in your chest, palpitations, severe shortness of breath, dizziness, or nausea, stop walking and seek immediate care.*
Because it is low impact, walking can have a definite advantage over such activities as running and aerobics. As a result, there is less chance of injury to joints and muscles. Indeed, walking is the number one activity recommended by fitness experts. So, for your well-being, take a walk!
For those interested in burning calories, going from a 20-minute mile [12-minute km] to a 15-minute mile [9-minute km] will use up 30 percent more calories per minute. Increasing the pace from a 15-minute mile [9-minute km] to a 12-minute mile [7-minute km] will burn up 50 percent more calories per minute. Most fitness walkers cover a mile in about 12 to 15 [a kilometer in about 7 to 9] minutes.
It may be best to consult a doctor before beginning an exercise regimen, especially if you suffer from heart disease, high blood pressure, or some other medical condition.
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SOME DOS AND DON’TS OF WALKING
● Walk tall, with your chin up (parallel to the ground), focusing 20 feet [6 m] ahead
● Maintain a moderate pace. Don’t feel that you must walk so fast that you become too breathless to converse normally
● Don’t overstride or elongate your steps. For extra speed, take quicker, shorter steps
● Swing arms front to back, with elbows close to the body. Avoid swinging your arms from side to side
● Don’t land flat-footed. Roll through each step, and push off with your toes
● Don’t feel obliged to carry weights. These throw off natural walking movements and can strain ligaments and tendons