Benefits of Walking
Walking is a form of exercise that, when performed with proper posture and correct form, is low-impact. It can be practiced by athletes and almost any average person and by people of all ages. Walking is a simple form of exercise that does not necessarily require a lot of special equipment. Walking as an exercise strengthens the bones, improves the mood, may help in weight maintenance, and it can also improve coordination and balance. Exercise of most styles, including walking, is an activity that naturally aids the brain in releasing mood-boosting chemicals just by performing the action. This effect is often boosted when the patient participates in the activity in an outdoor setting, but this does not mean that those who choose to or have to exercise indoors are excluded from the positive mental benefits.
For people with heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, repeatedly putting one foot ahead of the other can help to manage or prevent these systemic conditions.1 This form of exercise can help people avoid osteoporosis by strengthening the bones and muscles. Moderate exercise can improve health and reduce stress, even when heredity plays an uncontrollable role in risk factors for diseases.
Just 30 minutes of aerobic physical activity (i.e., walking, biking, etc.) for most of the days of the week might allow the patient who participates in these activities to reap the health benefits. Even when a half-hour of exercise time is not able to be accomplished all at once, intermittent activity also can be useful. This is good news for those patients who work or engage in similar, time-consuming actions throughout the day. Some could choose to walk during part of their lunch break and then finish the rest of their daily exercise at the end of the day, after work. Even just regularly getting up from a seated position, such as a desk at work, could help the patient fight their sedentary lifestyle with some little, regular physical activity.
Walking could also be a social activity with friends and family or coworkers. Patients who choose to walk alone while listening to music or podcasts should keep the volume low and pay extra attention to their surroundings, especially when walking in busy areas.2
Proper Walking Form
It is important to walk with proper form. Those who do not consistently walk properly will leave their body vulnerable to eventual repetitive stress injuries and misalignment and compensation throughout the body, hurting themselves in the long run. The head should be looking forward, not down. The weight of the head is further pushed down by gravity, putting a lot of stress on the neck to the point where some begin to develop severe forward curvature at the top of the spine. The neck, back, and shoulders should be relaxed, with the arms swinging freely (and slightly bent). The back needs to be straight, and the stomach muscles should be tightened. Rolling the foot from heel to toe allows for smooth walking.
As with all exercise, it is important to warm up with stretches and cool down, especially if a longer walk or one with increased difficulty, such as the addition of inclines, is planned. Shoes should have proper support in the arches, with soles that can “absorb shock”. The bottoms of the shoes should be built to increase friction with the ground, as flat-bottomed shoes increase the risk of slipping, especially on smooth surfaces.
When walking outside, the terrain should be even, without potholes or cracks.3 Some people may wish to walk barefoot. In that case, it is necessary to land on the heel softly, and roll through the outer part of the foot to the ball of the foot, and then push off with the toes. Barefoot hikers do a form of this called “fox-walking”, which looks a bit like walking on tip-toes. There are barefoot types of shoes, which will also naturally adjust the stride to a mid-foot strike (to avoid a painful heel-strike). Those who choose to walk barefoot should take precautions, as they increase the risk of stepping on something that could injure their feet.4
Depending on geography, weather, or scheduling, a treadmill may be the best option for some people to do their regular walking. Choosing a treadmill depends on a lot of factors, including cost, noise, space requirements, whether or not running or incline is important, and how often it will be used.5 Some treadmills for the home are commercial-grade. There are even treadmills that combine stair stepping with walking. Some people may wish to have a treadmill desk for work. The benefits of a treadmill include a stable walking area, climate control, feedback (i.e., calories burned and distance walked), the ability to walk while watching TV, reading, or listening to a podcast, variety (i.e., incline, speed), and safety.6
1, 3 http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/walking/HQ01612