By Christina Eyers, Ed.D., AT, ATC
Think walking doesn’t pack as much of a punch as other workouts? Think again! A recent Harvard University study found that 2.5 hours of brisk walking each week could extend your life by up to seven years. Seven years!
In fact, research shows that the list of health benefits you reap by simply putting one foot in front of the other is constantly growing. Here are just a few of the standout benefits your body enjoys by walking.
- Reduces your risk of many cancers, including breast, colon and prostate
- Reduces your risk of coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States
- Improves your blood pressure and cholesterol
- Raises your metabolism so that you burn calories and fat faster
- Promotes more restful sleep
- Helps prevent the onset of non-insulin dependent (Type 2) diabetes
- Reduces your risk for osteoporosis
- Helps increase your energy levels, flexibility and posture
- Slows aging by improving your brain function – one of the best benefits of walking!
- Elevates your mood to prevent or reduce depression
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! But before you set out to walk your way to better health, here are ten helpful tips to help you maintain proper form, prevent injury and maximize your workout:
- Don’t skip the warm up. Walking may not seem rigorous on your body, but even a moderate pace requires some easing into. Make sure to include at least five minutes of warm up, be it a slower walk or other movements, before you begin. Speaking of which…
- Training is key. Because you often don’t break a sweat while walking, people tend to think, “It’s only a few miles. I don’t need to train first!” But you need to help your body build up to any activity, walking included. That’s especially true with long walks, multi-day events or when the terrain involves an incline.
- It’s all in the arms. A good arm swing is key, but make sure you’re pumping forward and back, not side-to-side. Cross-body or lateral arm swings don’t provide as much momentum, so keep those elbows in!
- Wear the right shoes. Just like runners often have their gait diagnosed by specialty athletic shoe stores to determine what type of shoe is best for them, walkers can benefit from that same precision. Getting properly fitted for your footwear can help with ankle support and balance.
- Let your toes in on the fun. Walking utilizes the intrinsic muscles in your feet, and strengthening them can also improve balance and ankle support.
- Bring some weights along. Adding a few additional pounds to your ankles and/or wrists or just holding small dumbbells while you pump your arms helps improve the strength training aspect of walking. But always balance the weight out on both sides, and beware of overdoing it.
- Change it up. The initial effectiveness you experience from your daily workout diminishes over time, causing people to plateau in their fitness goals. Avoid too much repetition by varying either your speed or your distance every few weeks. A 10 percent increase in either should do the trick.
- Don’t slouch those shoulders. Keeping your shoulders back and your head up helps stave off bad posture while walking, which can cause sciatic nerve pain. It also helps maintain a strong core.
- Beware of over-striding. It’s possible to reach too far with your legs while walking, which causes undo strain on your joints and can lead to pulled muscles. Try to find your sweet spot.
- Hit the pool. Aqua walking is a great option for joint pain sufferers and the elderly, who can be less steady on their feet. Buoyancy provides stress relief for achy joints, and the water resistance provides a great overall workout.
Keep in mind that the most important thing about walking is just getting started. So now that you have the motivation and you know the proper mechanics, lace up your sneakers with confidence. Before you know it, you’ll be walking your way to a more fit, healthier you.
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