Walking Works for Everyone

By Floria, Barbara

Fit people may think walking is "too easy" to keep them fit. Overweight people may wonder if they really can become trim by walking. Older people and those with medical conditions, such as osteoporosis or heart disease, may wonder if walking is safe.

In fact, walking works for people of all ages, fitness levels, weights and health conditions.

"Walking can keep you fit and help you lose and keep off weight," says Susan Yanovski, M.D., a medical officer at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. "With a doctor's supervision, even people recovering from surgery or who have chronic medical conditions can enjoy and benefit from walking. All you need to know is how to walk safely and how to plan your walking program."

Appreciate the benefits

Walking is easy because you can do it almost anywhere and at any time. It also offers a range of health benefits.

According to Dr. Yanovski, walking:

  • Gives you energy

  • Improves your mood and reduces stress

  • Helps you relax and sleep better

  • Reduces your risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and several cancers

  • Tones your muscles, including your heart

  • Increases the number of calories you burn, helping you lose and keep off weight

Get started

Get your doctor's go-ahead before you start to walk if you've been sedentary for some time, are a smoker, are overweight or have heart disease, diabetes or another chronic condition.

Once you're ready to go, keep the following in mind:

  • Choose a safe place to walk. Find a partner or group of people to walk with. Your partner should be able to walk with you on the same schedule and at the same speed.

  • Wear walking shoes with thick flexible soles.

  • Wear clothes that are right for the season. Cotton clothes for the summer help keep you cool by absorbing sweat and allowing it to evaporate. Layer your clothing in the winter, and as you warm up, take off some layers.

  • Do light stretching after you walk.

  • Try to walk at least three times a week.

  • To avoid stiff or sore muscles or joints, start slowly with a short walk of 10 minutes or so. Over several weeks, begin walking faster, going farther and walking for longer periods of time.

  • Begin your walk by warming up to increase your heart rate. Do this by walking at a normal pace for five minutes. After you've warmed up, walk briskly for 30 to 60 minutes. When your brisk walk is done, cool down by walking slowly for five minutes.

For best results, use good walking form by following these guidelines:

  • Maintain good posture, with your chin up and your shoulders back.

  • Relax your shoulders.

  • Breathe deeply, at a steady rhythm.

  • Keep your hips even.

  • Point your knees and feet forward.

  • Walk with a full stride, landing on your heel, then rolling your weight toward your toe.

  • Swing your arms in pace with your legs. Be sure you're moving your arms and legs briskly.

  • Stretch after your walk while your muscles are warm to prevent stiffness and increase flexibility.

Stick with a routine

Now that you've started walking, you'll want to get the most out of your exercise. Keeping a walking log can keep you motivated and also give you a way to track your improvement.

"No matter where or when you walk, play it safe: Be 'streetwise' and watch for signs of overexertion, which is your cue to slow down or stop," says Dr. Yanovski. "If you're injured while walking, feel out of breath or are concerned about your health for any reason, call your doctor."

Medical Reviewer: [Byrd, Sylvia RN, MBA, Godsey, Cynthia M.S., M.S.N., APRN, Lambert, J.G. M.D.] Last Annual Review Date: 2008-06-12T00:00:00-06:00 Copyright: © Copyright Health Ink & Vitality Communications

Reference: Osteoporosis section on Better Medicine

Did You Know?

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Women ages 19 to 50 need at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium every day. Younger women and women older than 50 need even more.