The Wonders of Walking
~ By Laura Brieser-Smith, Registered dietitian, certified personal trainer ~
Walking is one of the best forms of exercise, and something that most people can do easily. Although it is a natural motion, there are some things to be mindful of when you walk.
The first thing is your feet. With each step, the heel of your foot should hit the ground first and then roll to the toe as you push off for the next step. If your feet hit the ground with a “slap,” you are probably walking with a flat foot, which may lead to leg pain. Make sure that you pick your feet up and do not drag your toes to prevent tripping and falling.
Next, look at the length of your steps. Short steps may cause you to tire more quickly. However, trying to take a stride that is unnaturally long may lead to hip pain. The “ideal” length of stride is different for everyone and depends on the length of your legs and your hip flexibility. Not only should your legs move, but your arms should get in on the action, too. Arms can be bent at 90 degrees or they can remain straight with a relaxed elbow. They should swing naturally back and forth opposite the leg motion.
The last piece is posture. Walk tall! Your head should be up and your eyes should focus on the sidewalk or track 10 – 20 feet ahead. Your shoulders should be pulled down away from your ears and your abdominal muscles should be held tight. Maintaining this posture will help you to breathe better and decrease back pain.
Remember that walking can be done anywhere – inside, outside, at a mall, on a treadmill, etc. During the hot days of summer, it is often best to choose a cooler indoor walking spot, or walk either in the morning or evening when it is not so hot outside. One last consideration when walking is the use of hand and ankle weights. While it may be tempting to use them in order to get a little more benefit from your walk, it’s best to avoid them. Wrist and ankle weights tend to put undue stress on shoulders, elbows, knees, and hips which can cause pain that would limit your walking ability.
If you find that walking is difficult or creates pain in your hips and knees, there are a few options to consider. First, you might consider walking in a pool. Being in the water makes you buoyant and takes stress off of feet, knees, and hips. Another option is to use trekking poles. While these adjustable poles have traditionally been used for hiking, many people are discovering how much support they provide when walking on urban trails. Most poles come with rubber tips so that they can even be used on indoor tracks.
Laura Brieser-Smith, RD, MPH, CHFS is the owner of Healthy Designs, LLC which provides nutrition counseling and personal training to clients in their homes or offices. She can be reached at 303-635-1131 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.