Making the most of walking

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Last month we looked at walking and why it is one of the best forms of exercise. You will recall that it is good for us in many ways: it is manageable, enjoyable and helps improve our mental well-being. It is also much easier on the body than high-impact activities like running for whilst running is great for cardiovascular health, it can negatively affect joints, hips, knees, and backs.

However, even with a simple exercise like walking we still need to take precautions so that we gain maximum benefit without causing injury.

A common mistake people often make when they start to exercise is to push their body beyond its limits through over-exercising for too long or too often. When repetitive movements are done for prolonged periods or if we push, pull and lift excessively, this leaves the muscles tense, tired, and more prone to injury due to wear and tear.

One of exercise’ many effects (and benefits) is to raise our metabolism.  However, this in turn can make us feel hungrier and the harder we push ourselves when exercising, the more we feel the need to compensate either through eating more or generally moving less because we’ve burned ourselves out!  This isn’t just a physical reaction because psychologically all our hard work requires a pay-off, often in the form of a high calorie, low-nutrient treat. Muscles get tired from performing the same movement over and over again and muscles that are tense and overused are more likely to develop injury when combined with repetitive motions.

Walking is a low-impact activity that allows us to reap the cardiovascular rewards without killing ourselves from the effort. All it takes is 10,000 steps a day if we want to maintain health and already have good diets, but even those looking to lose weight can sweat off the pounds with longer walks at a brisk pace. Just grab your IPod or MP3 player and a good pair of shoes and that Thirty-minute guideline will be conquered before you know it.

Benefits of Exercise-Walking

It has long been known that there are many inherent health benefits from a regular routine of exercise walking, such as:

  • Walking is a rhythmic, dynamic, aerobic activity of large skeletal muscles which offers many benefits with minimal adverse effects.
  • Walking strengthens muscles in the legs, feet, hips, and torso—it increases the stability of the spine and conditions the muscles that keep the body in the upright position.
  • Walking nourishes the spinal structures and facilitates strong circulation.
  • Walking Improves flexibility and posture—exercise walking, together with regular stretching allows greater range of motion; helps prevent injury and increases the flow of movements.
  • Walking Strengthens bones and reduces bone density loss—regular walking for exercise helps prevent osteoporosis and can aid in reducing osteoarthritis pain.
  • Walking helps with controlling weight—any regular exercise routine helps will help you to maintain a healthy weight, especially as one ages and metabolism slows.
    • For people with ongoing back pain, balanced and stable walking maintains and enhances one’s ability to continue doing everyday activities, while reducing the likelihood and/or severity of additional episodes of back pain.

To realize the full benefits of exercise walking, certain guidelines need to be followed.

The following techniques will help improve the benefits of walking:

  1. Walk briskly, but as a general rule maintain enough breath to be able to carry on a conversation.
  2. Start out with a 10 minute walk and work up to walking for at least 30 minutes (roughly 2 miles) at least 3 to 4 times a week.
  3. Good posture while walking will help you to get the optimum aerobic benefit with each step and help protect the back and avoid injury.
    1. Head and shoulders: Keep the head up and centred between the shoulders, with eyes focused straight ahead. Keep the shoulders relaxed but straight—avoid slouching forward.
    2. Abdominal muscles: It is important to actively use the abdominal muscles to help support the trunk of the body and the spine. To do this, keep the stomach pulled in slightly and stand fully upright. Avoid leaning forward as you walk.
    3. Hips: The majority of the forward motion should start with the hips. Each stride should feel natural—not too long or too short. Most people make the mistake of trying to take too long of stride.
    4. Arms and hands: Arms should stay close to the body, with elbows bent at a 90 degree angle. While walking, the arms should keep in motion, swinging front to back in pace with the stride of the opposite leg. Remember to keep hands relaxed, lightly cupped with the palms inward and thumbs on top. Avoid clenching the hands or making tight fists.
    5. Feet: With each step, land gently on the heel and mid foot, rolling smoothly to push off with the toes.

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