Think walking doesn’t pack as much of a punch as other workouts? Think again. Walking offers many health benefits – and research shows the list is constantly growing. Here are just some of the standout benefits your body enjoys by walking:
- It reduces your risk of many cancers, including breast, colon and prostate.
- It reduces your risk of coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States.
- It improves your blood pressure and cholesterol.
- It raises your metabolism so you burn calories at a faster rate.
- It promotes more restful sleep.
- It helps prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.
- It reduces your risk for osteoporosis.
- It helps increase your energy levels, flexibility and posture.
- It slow aging by improving brain function – one of the best benefits of walking!
- It elevates your mood to prevent or reduce depression.
Advice For A Walking Workout
Are you convinced to get out there and walk yet? Before you lace up your shoes or grab the dog’s leash, here are ten helpful tips to help you maintain proper form, prevent injury and maximize your workout.
- Don’t skip the warmup. Walking may not seem rigorous on your body, but even a moderate pace requires some easing into. Warm up for at least five minutes 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 uses 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 don't overdo 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% 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.
The most important thing about walking is 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 fitter, healthier you.
Christina Chapski, Ed.D., AT, ATC, is the Director of Athletic Training and Community Outreach at Henry Ford Health. Read more of Christina's articles.