Walking

Definition

Walking is a low-impact, aerobic activity that can improve heart health, aid in weight loss, improve mood, and increase overall health and well-being.




A senior couple enjoys a walk outside.





A senior couple enjoys a walk outside. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults get 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week; this equates to 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week.
(Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com)

Purpose

The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults get 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week. This is equivalent to 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 days a week. Brisk walking is considered a moderate intensity activity.

Walking is an excellent low-impact, low-cost aerobic activity that can be done by nearly everyone. It is a good way to get the recommended amount of exercise and does not require any special equipment except for a pair of comfortable walking shoes. Walking is recommended as a way to improve health and well-being for all age groups and fitness levels.

Description

To start walking, all that is required is a comfortable pair of shoes and ten minutes. A short walk to the mailbox or around the block during a lunch break can be the first step to better health through walking. Starting to walk for fitness does not require much of a time commitment and can be fit into even the busiest of schedules.

For individuals who are not at all active, walking should begin slowly and be done for short amounts of time. Walking for ten minutes at a time just three times a day every day of the workweek can fulfill the CDC recommendations for exercise and have a noticeable impact on health and overall wellness.

For a moderate intensity work-out, walking should be done at a fast enough speed that breathing rate and body temperature are increased but not so fast as to make it difficult to talk or carry on a conversation. As a general rule, if an individual cannot talk easily, the exercise is too vigorous, and if the individual can sing a song the exercise is not vigorous enough.

Wearing a pedometer (a device that counts steps) can be a good way to set goals and monitor progress. Wearing one for a few days can provide a good baseline estimate of how active an individual is. Setting a goal of adding a few hundred steps is an easy way to start improving health. Increasing the goal every week or two helps increase health benefits a little bit at a time.

Sometimes staying motivated to exercise can be difficult. Below are some tips for how to stay motivated to keep walking.

Benefits

Walking can also help with the management of chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes. For individuals who do not have type 2 diabetes, regular walking has been found to decrease the risk of its occurrence.

Regular walking also aids in weight loss and can help with weight maintenance once the desired weight has been achieved. Regular brisk walking also can lead to improved general mobility, and increased muscle tone.

KEY TERMS
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol—
Cholesterol that is often called “bad” cholesterol, it is the cholesterol that builds upon the artery walls to form plaque which can restrict blood flow and cause heart attack and stroke.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol—
The “good” cholesterol that transports unhealthy cholesterol away from the arteries to the liver that can process it for removal from the body.
Type 2 diabetes—
formerly called adult-onset diabetes. In this form of diabetes, the pancreas either does not make enough insulin or cells become insulin resistant and do not use insulin efficiently.

One of the most important benefits of regular walking is improved mood. Having a better mood can lead to a more positive outlook on life and greater enjoyment of many activities.

Precautions

Most people can begin walking for health and wellness without concern. However, people with a serious health condition should consult their doctor before beginning any exercise regime. If an individual has a very sedentary lifestyle, walking should be initiated slowly and with short walks that gradually lengthen over time.

Preparation

Preparation for a short walk can be very simple. Before taking a casual ten-minute walk to the post office, simply ensuring that comfortable shoes and clothing appropriate for the weather are being worn generally is enough. For longer or more strenuous walks, however, some basic warm-up is appropriate.

Before beginning a long or strenuous walk a fiveminute warm up walk is a good idea. It does not have to be outside; it can be as simple as walking in place slowly for five minutes. This helps begin to increase the heart rate and warm and loosen the muscles. After five minutes of slow warm-up walking, about five minutes of gentle stretching generally is recommended. Stretching the muscles that will be used during walking, such as the hamstrings and calves, helps to ensure that they remain flexible throughout the walk and reduces the risk of damage or strain.

Before beginning a long walk it is important to pick the route. If an individual is going to walk alone it is a good idea to leave a note or otherwise inform someone else of the planned route. It is also always a good idea to bring along a cell phone in case of emergencies.

Anyone walking at night should wear reflective clothing to ensure that cars, bikes, and other pedestrians can see them easily. For all walks, it is important to wear weather-appropriate clothing. It often is a good idea to dress in layers so that the amount of clothing can be adjusted as necessary during the walk. For long or strenuous walks it is also important to take a bottle of water to ensure good hydration.

Aftercare

After a long or vigorous walk, a cool-down period is recommended. This can consist of walking slowly for about five minutes. The cool-down period reduces strain on the body by allowing it to adjust slowly to a reduced level of exercise. After a five-minute cool down, stretching helps to keep the muscles limber and reduces the possibility of muscle strain and sprain. Gentle stretching of the muscles involved in walking, such as the hamstrings and calves is generally recommended.

Drinking water both during and after a long or vigorous walk is important to maintaining good hydration. Plain water is generally best for hydration, but flavored waters, low-fat or fat-free milk, or sugar-free juices also can be good choices. Unless the walk has been extremely long or very vigorous, sports drinks are not usually a good choice. They may contain more calories than were burned during the walk, and usually only extremely active people will benefit from them.

Risks

Walking is generally considered a low-impact activity that is unlikely to carry any serious risks. However, there are some possible negative outcomes that can occur, which are somewhat more likely with extremely vigorous walking.

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR DOCTOR

Muscle strain or sprain is a possible risk of walking. This risk can be reduced by wearing appropriate walking shoes and warming up and stretching both before and after walking. Walking during daylight hours or in well-lit places can help reduce the risk of stepping incorrectly and injuring oneself on rough or uneven terrain. If an individual is just beginning walking for exercise or is less stable for any reason, finding a place to walk with even terrain is extremely important in reducing the risk of injury. Walking in indoor malls is often a good choice because the floors that are flat and even and are not made slippery by rain, wet leaves, snow, or ice.

Anyone who has a serious health condition may be at risk of increased health problems if beginning a new walking program. People with serious health problems should talk to their doctor about possible risks of walking for exercise. The doctor can help to determine what level of exercise is appropriate. Although walking is generally recommended for every individual who is able, even people who are in cardiac rehabilitation units of hospitals, this does not mean that it is risk-free. Walking in crowded areas or walking under the supervision of a physical therapist or other health professional can improve the chance of getting help immediately in the case of a heart attack, stroke, or other adverse health event. Starting slowly and walking for only a few minutes at a time, then slowly building up both speed and duration can help reduce the risk of problems, even in those with serious health conditions.

Resources

BOOKS

Kimkio. Walking your Way to a Better Life. New York: Vertical, 2009.

Nottingham, Suzanne, and Alexandra Jurasin. Nordic Walking for Total Fitness. Champaign: Human Kinetics, 2010.

Peters, Erika. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Walking for Health. Indianapolis: Alpha, 2007.

PERIODICALS

Lee, I-Min, and David M. Buchner. “The Importance of Walking to Public Health.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 40, suppl. 7 (July 2008): S512–8.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Heart Association, 7272 Greenville Ave., Dallas, TX, 75231, (800) AHA-USA-1 (242-8721), http://www.heart.org .

American Nordic Walking Association, 827 Via De La Paz, Pacific Palisades, CA, 90272, (323) 244-2519, Fax: (310) 459-2842, info@anwa.us, http://www.anwa.us .

American Volkssport Association, 1001 Pat Booker Rd., Ste. 101, Universal City, TX, 78148, (210) 659-2112, Fax: (210) 659-1212, AVAHQ@ava.org, http://www.ava.org .

Tish S. Davidson, AM

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.