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Walking -- Rx for Health, Happiness
For a healthier, happier
lifestyle, try walking -- the most popular form of exercise.
It's easy, safe, and
inexpensive. It's also relaxing and at the same time invigorating,
requires little athletic skill, and does not call for club membership or
special equipment other than sturdy, comfortable shoes. And it is fun
and natural -- good for your mind and self-esteem.
The results of walking
are physically rewarding -- a trim, fit body better able to enhance
general health and add enjoyable years to your life.
Fundamental walking --
also called healthwalking -- can be done almost anywhere and at any
time, year around -- to the store, in the mall or in your neighborhood;
alone, with your dog, or with others; and at your own pace. It is
simple, uncomplicated -- physical fitness at your leisure.
Walking benefits most
everybody, regardless of age. About 67 million men and women are walking
regularly. Convinced that it is good exercise, they're making it a part
of their daily routine. And their numbers are increasing every year,
according to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
A Sure Way To Fitness
For those with a long history
of inactivity, problems with obesity, or who just don't like strenuous
activity, walking is an excellent way to begin an exercise program. You
can start slowly, then increase your speed and maintain a steady pace. A
good conditioning program begins with moderation and dedication.
Podiatric and family
physicians recommend walking to ease or ward off a number of physically
related ills. Walking can help you:
Walking: There's An Art To It
- Strengthen your heart and lungs, and improve
- Prevent heart attacks and strokes.
- Reduce obesity and high blood pressure.
- Boost your metabolic rate.
- Favorably alter your cholesterol.
- Improve muscle tone in your legs and abdomen.
- Reduce stress and tension.
- Reduce arthritis pain; stop bone tissue decay.
Before you start walking,
some simple warmup exercises -- but not strenuous, advanced stretching
-- can give your muscles added flexibility. Body twists at the waist, in
a slow hula-hoop motion, and a few toe-touching or knee-bend exercises
are appropriate. When you're ready to begin, the best way to start is
walking 20 uninterrupted minutes at least three times a week. Walk at a
comfortable pace, slowing down if you find yourself breathing heavily.
Don't tire yourself. If 20 minutes is too much, cut back to l0 or l5
minutes. You can gradually increase your time and pace as your body
adapts to the exercise.
There are several ways to
measure your pace. One is to walk on routes which you have pre-measured
with your car's odometer. Perhaps the simplest is to use a wristwatch.
Count the number of steps you take in a 15-second period; if you're
taking 15 in that time, you're walking about two miles an hour. At about
23, you're probably going three miles an hour, and at 30, the pace is
close to four miles an hour.
You may want to keep an
activity log, in which you jot down the dates, times, and estimated
distances of your walks, plus other notes, such as routes, milestones,
and incidental experiences.
Some Walking Tips:
- Move at a steady pace, brisk enough to make your
heart beat faster. Breathe more deeply.
- Walk with your head erect, back straight, abdomen
flat. Keep your legs out front and your knees slightly bent.
- Swing your arms freely at your sides.
- As you walk, land on the heel of your foot and roll
forward to push off on the ball of your foot.
- At least at the beginning, confine your walks to
level stretches of flat surfaces, avoiding excessively steep hills
and embanked roadways.
- If you're walking in the evening, be sure to wear
clothing with reflective material sewn in, or otherwise attached.
- Cool down after a long, brisk walk to help pump
blood back up from your legs to where it's needed. Here's where some
stretching exercises can be helpful. A good one is standing about
three feet from a wall, with your hands flat on the wall. Then take
five or six small steps backward, maintaining your hand contact with
the wall. Repeat the exercise five to ten times.
Racewalking is a very
specific technique that's used by walkers for both fitness and
competition. It has greater aerobic benefits than healthwalking, since
it is faster and increases the heartbeat rate.
If you get to the point
where you think racewalking is for you, there are clubs which can be
contacted in most places.
Walking Footwear: Comfort and
Choose a good quality,
lightweight walking shoe with breathable upper materials, such as
leather or nylon mesh. The heel counter should be very firm; the heel
should have reduced cushioning to position the heel closer to the ground
for walking stability. The front or forefoot area of the shoe should
have adequate support and flexibility.
Fit is very important. Go
to a reputable store and have both shoes fitted for length and
width with the socks you'll be using. (Do this late in the afternoon,
since your feet do swell enough during the day to affect your shoe
size.) Make sure the shoe is snug, but not too tight over the sock. The
shoe should have plenty of room for the toes to move around. Several
walking shoes have qualified to use the APMA Seal of Acceptance.
Your choice of athletic
socks is also important. Sports podiatrists frequently recommend
appropriately padded socks of acrylic fiber. Acrylic fibers tend to
"wick" away excessive perspiration, which active feet can
produce from 250,000 sweat glands at a rate of four to six ounces a day,
or even more. Again, there are popular brands of athletic socks which
are authorized to use APMA's Seal of Acceptance.
Some Other Tips:
Do You Need A Checkup?
- Check on the shoe width; it must comfortably
accommodate the width of the ball of your foot.
- Make sure you get good arch support.
- See that the top of the heel counter of the shoe is
properly cushioned and does not bite into the heel or touch the
If you are free of serious
health problems, you can start walking with confidence. Walking is not
strenuous; it involves almost no risk to health. You should, of course,
exercise good judgment, not exceed the limits of your condition, and not
walk outdoors during extreme weather periods, until you have a good
walking program established.
You should, however,
consult your family or podiatric physician before you begin a walking
regimen. A checkup is suggested, particularly if you are over 60, have a
disease or disability, or are taking medication. It is also recommended
for those who are 35-60, substantially overweight, easily fatigued,
excessive smokers, or have been physically inactive.
One of your physicians
will help you determine your proper walking heart rate. Heart rate is
widely accepted as a good method for measuring intensity during walking
and other physical activities. The formula says that subtracting your
age from the number 220 yields your maximum heart rate (beats per
minute), and that the proper walking rate is 60-70 percent of that
number. For a 50-year-old, that's 220 minus 50 equals 170; 60 percent of
that is 102 and 70 percent is 119. Other factors should be considered,
though; a physician's advice is the best indicator of your correct rate.
You are now ready to
begin a walking program. It is a prescription for a healthier, happier