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Walking: the overlooked, under-utilized exercise

Walking: the overlooked, under-utilized exercise

Some health experts suggest it does as much good as a more strenuous workout

September 29th, 2013 by Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs in News

There are plenty of ways to get exercise. People play sports like tennis, they go jogging, swimming or join a gym. But walking, it turns out, can be an effective and healthy exercise as well, putting less strain on joints - an important point for an aging population.

Because it isn't as strenuous as a lot of other exercises, walking needs to be done regularly. Fortunately, most of us walk as part of our normal daily lives. If we can work in about 30 minutes of brisk walking a day, the American Heart Association says, we can produce a number of healthy benefits.

For example, the Heart Association cites research showing a half-hour of walking each day can reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, improve both blood pressure and blood sugar levels, maintain body weight and reduce obesity risks and even improve your mental state. 

Walk this way

When you walk, there's a right way to do it. You may have learned to walk before you were two but chances are you aren't doing it the way that provides the most benefit. 

Health experts at the Mayo Clinic say you should maintain good posture while walking. Your head should be up, not looking at the ground. Your neck and shoulders should be relaxed. Your arms should swing freely with a slight bend in your elbows. Walk at a smooth pace, rolling your foot from heel to toe.

According to Harvard Health, walking is a health indicator as you age. After age 65, for example, how fast you walk may predict how long you will live. Walking at an active pace has long been recognized as a proxy for overall health and has been measured in many studies, the Harvard doctors say. Researchers have found a consistent association between faster walking speed and longer life.

How much do you walk?

If walking is an easy way to get exercise then why don't more of us do it? A study by the World Heart Federation suggests most of us are unaware of how much - or how little - walking we do in a normal day. In a global survey 25% of those answering had no idea.

"Awareness is the first step to a healthy heart," said Dr. Kathryn Taubert, Chief Science Officer, World Heart Federation. "Paying attention to how much we walk should be as simple as watching what we eat. By reaching the recommended guideline of minimum 30 minutes of moderate exercise, which includes brisk walking at least five days a week, many premature deaths can be prevented."

It's actually pretty easy to track your "mileage" while walking. There are cheap digital pedometers that you can carry in your pocket that measure your steps and convert that into miles. In addition, smartphones have apps that will help you track how many miles you've covered. There has been some research suggesting that people who wear pedometers on a regular basis increase their physical activity by almost 27 per cent.

Just as good as running

There's also research backing claims that walking provides as much benefit as more strenuous exercise. A study commissioned by the American Heart Association and conducted at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that, if walkers and runners burned the same number of calories during exercise, they experienced similar reductions in a range of conditions, from high blood pressure and high cholesterol to heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.

When you make walking a major part of your exercise plan you should almost treat it like a sport. The experts at the Mayo Clinic says first and foremost is the issue of footwear. If you are going to be covering a lot of miles than make sure you have sturdy, comfortable shows.

Also, if walking outdoors choose a course with a smooth path or surface, avoiding cracked sidewalks and potholes. Just like any other physical exercise, warm up and stretch your muscles before setting off at a brisk pace. At the end of the walk, slow your pace for several minutes to cool down.

Find walking boring? Move to New York City. You'll be so busy trying to keep up with everyone else while watching for cabs and bikes that it will be downright exciting. And while you're at it, notice how thin most New Yorkers are. Just might be a correlation.