Walking and your feet
The health benefits of walking for exercise are well documented and well received. Walking helps control weight, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. A brisk walk can burn up to 100 calories per mile. Walking is the perfect complement to a sensible diet to lose weight and keep it off. It improves cardiovascular fitness. As an aerobic exercise, walking gets the heart beating faster to transport oxygen-rich blood from the lungs to the muscles. The heart and lungs grow stronger and more efficient with regular walking, reducing blood pressure and resting heart rate. Walking is even a central element of medical rehab after persons have had a heart attack – cardiac rehabilitation programs. Psychologically, walking generates an overall feeling of well-being and relieves depression, anxiety and stress by producing endorphins, the body’s natural tranquilizer. A brisk walk will relax you and stimulate your thinking.
See your doctor before walking. For people with poor circulation to the arms and legs, walking can increase the size and improve the efficiency of the tiny blood vessels. Anyone diagnosed with poor circulation should see a doctor before beginning walking for exercise. Any diabetic with any foot complaints should have their feet examined by a podiatrist before starting a walking program. If you are more than 40 years old and have any problems with weight, respiration, blood pressure, pulse rate or cholesterol, check with your doctor before walking. The same goes for diabetics, smokers or people with preexisting injuries or a family history of heart problems.
On your feet
The ideal walking shoe should be stable from side to side, well-cushioned and it should enable you to walk smoothly. Some running shoes also meet these criteria well, and for most people are acceptable for walking as well. However, there are specialty walking shoes that may work well for you. These tend to be slightly less cushioned, not as bulky and lighter than running shoes. Most important, whether you are wearing a walking or running shoe, it must fit and feel stable to you. Either type of shoe is acceptable, if it works well with your foot mechanics, providing cushioning and stability while you are walking.
Shoes should always feel comfortable and fit well in the store. Don’t cut corners on your shoe budget; buying shoes is the only real expense necessary for walking, so treat your feet well. Visit the shoe store late in the afternoon, when your feet are slightly swollen. Wear the same socks to the store that you will wear while walking. Try on at least four or five pairs of shoes. Put on and lace up both shoes and walk around for a minute or two in the store. Before buying, check the shoe’s quality with the vertical heel test. Place the shoe on the store’s counter and make sure the heel is straight up when looking at it from the back. Is the midsole well-connected to the upper? Is the stitching complete? Check inside the shoe for any irregular bumps or stitching.
Make sure the shoe fits
When the shoes are on your feet, the heel should be snug. You should be able to wiggle your toes in the shoe, and about one half to a full thumb’s width between the end of the longest toe on your longer foot and the end of the shoe’s toe box. Make sure your ankles don’t roll in the shoes. If you have bunions or other deformities on the foot, consult your podiatrist about the best shoes for you. If you have prescription inserts, substitute your insert for the one that comes in the shoe to make sure it will fit properly.
Foot care for walking
Good general foot care must be maintained if you plan to subject your feet to a regular walking regimen. Wear thick, absorbent socks (acrylic is preferable to cotton); dry feet well after bathing, paying special attention to the toes. Nails should be cut regularly, straight across the toe to prevent nail trauma or losing the nail. Self-treatment of corns and calluses with over-the-counter remedies is not a good idea before starting to walk. It can cause pain and stop your walking plan. Maladies that cause discomfort such as bunions and hammertoes should be evaluated by a podiatric physician before you begin to walk. If a blister develops and you are not a diabetic, self-treatment by puncturing the blister with a sterilized needle and draining the fluid is acceptable. Do not remove the “roof” of the blister. Cover the treated blister with antibiotic ointment and a sterile dressing to prevent infection. If it is not healed in a couple of days, see a podiatrist.
Hitting the road
Before you get going, stretching exercises are good and help with muscle stiffness or prevent pulled muscles. Consult your podiatrist for some specific ways to loosen up the foot and leg muscles that will be used during your walk. Take five deep breaths for each slow stretch and hold the stretched muscle firm without bouncing. After every walk, stretch again to improve circulation and decrease buildup of lactic acid.
Setting realistic goals is vital to a successful walking program. You may want to lose weight, maintain your weight or walk just for the health of it. First, make walking a regular habit. Start slowly, with five or 10-minute walks three to five times a week. As walks get longer, their frequency can be changed. Starting too quickly or doing too much too soon can lead to injury or muscle soreness that can turn you away from walking before it works its magic on your mind and body. Start your walks slowly, and gradually work up to a brisk speed that will cover a mile in 15 minutes (that’s four miles per hour). Measure a one-mile stretch, record your time and see how you improve as the weeks go by. To get the many benefits from walking, you must eventually be able to walk 30 minutes at a brisk pace without stopping. Then, you can gradually build up to 40 then 60 minutes. To challenge yourself, you can add up your week’s total walking time, then increase it by 10 percent each week. It is recommended that we exercise for at least 150 minutes per week, spread out during the week. It is good to walk most days of the week but to leave a day for rest and repair of minor injuries, that can lead to more serious ones. Come on, get off the couch and get happy walking.
• For more information or to see a podiatrist visit Bahamas Foot Centre Rosetta Street, telephone 325-2996 or Bahamas Surgical Associates Centre, Albury Lane, telephone 394-5820 or email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.apma.org.