Walking, basic as it may seem, is an exercise everyone should include in their schedule every day. Throughout our lives, we measure progress and competence by the ability to walk—from how soon a baby takes those first steps, to how well we recover from setbacks (“He walked away from the accident”) to how long we can keep walking (“At the age of 100, she still walks to the store every day”).
Clearly, walking is more than just a handy means of transportation. Although it’s easy to take for granted, people who have found themselves unable to walk recognize that walking is a critical aspect of individual freedom, independence, and self-determination.
It’s easy to forget that walking is also a wonderful form of exercise. Because most of us do it without thinking, we don’t count walking when we tally our sources of daily physical activity, and many of us overlook walking when we look for ways to improve our health and fitness.
Walking preserves your health. Walking keeps your body tuned up. It stimulates your heartbeat, especially if you move at a brisk pace; it gets your muscles moving; it challenges you to stand up straight and coordinate your movements; it uses your body’s own weight to help build and maintain bone density.
Walking is convenient. A walk is always just one step in front of you, anytime, anywhere—indoors, outdoors, alone, with a friend or group (or dog), in the city, country, or beach; on flat or hilly terrain; rain or shine.
Walking is great for weight management. Walking burns calories and fat while it tones and shapes muscles. Walking can also help you cut down on excessive eating, not only by boosting your metabolism and suppressing appetite (an effect observed by many avid walkers, runners, and other athletes), but also by getting you off the sofa and away from the refrigerator and microwave.
Walking is an instant mood lifter. Walking helps you clear the cobwebs, shake the blues, recharge your batteries, cool off, and calm down. By taking you away from phones, problems, and daily clutter, walking can give you a chance to put things into perspective and come up with new ideas.
Walking is good medicine. Hospital professionals know that the sooner patients get up and walk, the sooner and more fully they will recover. Walking can help prevent or relieve many illnesses and injuries, including heart disease, arthritis, obesity, osteoporosis, falls, accidents, and fractures.
Walking is an appearance enhancer. In addition to helping control your weight and maintain muscle tone, walking can give your cheeks a rosy glow, your complexion a fresh, clear look; it can boost your posture, put bounce in your step, and grace in your stride.
Walking pays off in the long-run. The many benefits of walking can accrue interest and dividends as the years go by. When other forms of exercise become too challenging, walking is still a good choice—even for people who must use canes or walkers.
Walking is easy. Although you can take lessons in proper alignment and stride technique, most people are already able to walk.
Walking is free! No special equipment or facilities are required. While you can go for special walking shoes and suit up in athletic wear, all you really need is comfortable footwear and clothing.
NOTE:If you’re not feeling up to your full walk routine, choose a shorter route (you can always do it twice if you feel better later), rather than a longer hike that may prove too much.
Exercise may very well be the magic bullet. That’s why it’s critical to get off on the right foot. Check out the following before getting started.
YOUR CLOTHES: Wear shoes that fit well and have non-slip soles. Wear clothes that don’t chafe or bind. Dress for the weather, with layers to accommodate changing conditions or your own body temperature as you warm up and cool down.
YOUR PATH:Avoid traffic (not only cars, but also bikes, runners, skaters, and other obstacles). Stick with sidewalks, paths, or quiet streets.
VISIBILITY: Make sure you’re visible, especially at twilight or night. Use reflective gear and a flashlight if you walk in the dark.
WATCH YOUR STEP:Look out for uneven surfaces, rocks and litter, cracks, potholes, wet leaves, ice, and snow.
PACK LIGHT:Avoid carrying things that could become burdensome or hazardous on your journey. Consider using a backpack to balance your load or a fanny pack for bare essentials. If you’re walking on errands, a wheeled cart or wagon may be a good idea. Don’t turn your walk into a strain.
STICK TO SAFE AREAS:Stay away from dangerous or deserted neighborhoods or parks. Consider walking with a companion. Always let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back.
BE PREPARED:Carry some form of identification, a small amount of cash, and other things you may need along the way, such as a hat and gloves, rain gear, water, a light snack, or a map.
BE ALERT:Keep your eyes open for oncoming cars, unfriendly dogs (or people), thunderstorms and the like. Beware of headphones that could drown out important sounds around you, such as oncoming cars or someone trying to tell you something.
Even if you just walk a few blocks…Even if you’re just walking back to your car at the end of the lot…Even if you know you’re walking in a safe neighborhood…
Your first step should be regard for your safety. It is important to develop an “automatic sensor” to the hazards of any given environment. You can live in the safest neighborhood—and statistics will STILL say that many accidents occur closest to home. Here are some additional items to consider:
I JUST DON’T HAVE THE TIME! If you don’t have time to set aside for walking, consider incorporating walking into your daily activities.
IT’S CHILLY OUTSIDE! Put on your slicker, boots, or long-johns. Or walk indoors—in a mall, on a track, treadmill, or around your house.
I NEED COMPANY! Ask a friend or join a walking group.
I DON’T FEEL LIKE IT! Never push yourself if you really aren’t feeling well, and particularly if you have an injury that makes walking painful or difficult. But if you’re just feeling lazy, snap out of it and get moving! You’ll thank yourself later.
Don’t forget the safety of your own feet. Ill-fitting shoes, corns, blisters, athlete’s foot, arthritis, sprains and broken bones can break down your desire to walk even the shortest distance. See a doctor or a podiatrist if you experience any unusual pain or numbness.
American Heart Associationwww.heart.org
National Institutes of Healthwww.nih.gov
©2014 Wellness Councils of America
The information contained in this brochure has been carefully reviewed for accuracy. It is not intended to replace the advice of your physician or health care provider.
An Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.