If you’re in the habit of slipping on a pair of walking shoes and taking regular constitutionals, good for you! The benefits you gain far outweigh any reason to refrain.
First and foremost, walking improves overall cardiovascular fitness. It can regulate blood pressure, improve lung function, help to prevent or manage Type 2 diabetes, and maintain a healthy weight. “One study shows that walking two hours per week can not only reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease–related death, but also death from respiratory disease,” says Geoff Kandes, PT, DPT, physical therapy manager at Eisenhower Desert Orthopedic Center in Rancho Mirage.
Regular strolls also boost bone and joint health. Another study that Kandes cites indicates walking briskly can help older adults with arthritis maintain their independence and reduce disability. “People become sedentary and get into a cycle of not moving,” he says, “and from there, matters start to deteriorate.”
Starting a walking program takes some time and commitment, but it can be done. Devoting only 10 minutes a day can get the whole process underway. “Remember, though, once you leave your front door, you’ve got to get back,” Kandes cautions. “Plan on five minutes out and five minutes back, because you don’t want to get stuck somewhere and become fatigued.”
It goes without saying that well-fitting, comfortable shoes are a must. In our climate, the same could be said for a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. Naturally, you want to avoid the heat of day but, at the same time, always walk in well-lit, unobstructed areas. If the thought of walking in the summer defeats you, consider striding back and forth in a swimming pool. The buoyancy of the water reduces body weight but adds resistance, making it an excellent place for the especially deconditioned or those experiencing joint pain.
As for a walking method, you want to stand tall but not rigid. “Keep your shoulders back but simultaneously relaxed, and let your arms swing,” Kandes says. “You actually burn more calories that way.”
You can divide your two hours of weekly walking time however you choose. Kandes suggests buddying up with a friend to hold yourself accountable and to turn walking into a social activity. Many people find that Fitbits and other tracking devices help motivate them.
All physical benefits aside — and there are plenty — walking is also a great way to improve your emotional and mental well-being.
Take the first step and get in the habit!