A new year is here and we are still dealing with COVID-19. Many people are tired and frustrated but we must recognize that there are a few benefits of COVID-19. One positive effect has been the increased number of people who are walking and exercising, and reconnecting and spending more time with family members. Walking continues to be the best way to get out and to get fit. If you have not already done so, now is a good time to begin a walking program. Walking is one of the best forms of exercise. It is recommended that we walk for at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week. Walking is a great way to improve and maintain overall health.
Health benefits of walking: There are many health benefits to walking that improve your overall health. Walking strengthens the heart and reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke. It reduces high blood pressure, promotes weight loss, and prevents and controls type 2 diabetes. Walking improves digestion, metabolism and regulates bowel habits. Walking decreases the risk of breast and colon cancers, strengthens joints and bones, builds muscles, and improves flexibility, balance and coordination. It boosts your immune system and energy levels. It releases endorphins that make you feel good, improves self-esteem and relieves symptoms of depression and anxiety. Walking reduces stress, especially when walking in nature, and improves sleep.
Recommendations for starting a walking program
Get a foot check-up: If you have not exercised in a long time, consult your primary care physician/medical doctor to make sure you are fit enough to start a walking program. We also recommend you visit a podiatrist to have your feet examined and sneakers checked. Knowing your foot type will help you purchase the proper footwear – sneakers/tennis vital to the success of any walking program.
Get the right shoes: Once you have selected a safe route and have the appropriate clothing, it is time to get the right walking shoes. Purchase and maintain good walking shoes and replace them regularly. Have your feet measured every time you purchase sneakers and try them on in the store to check the fit. Do not buy shoes that need a “break-in” period; your sneakers should be comfortable immediately after you buy them. Choose good quality, lightweight walking sneakers with breathable upper materials, such as leather or nylon mesh. The heel counter – the part of the shoe that holds your heel – should be very firm. The front or forefoot area of the shoe where the toes are should have adequate space, support and flexibility. The arch of the sneaker should be curved upward to conform to and fit the arch of your feet rather than flat. Don’t forget the socks. Wear properly padded acrylic socks. Acrylic fibers draw away excessive perspiration better than cotton or wool.
Stretching is vital: Before beginning your exercise regimen, proper stretching is essential. Stretching exercises should take five to 10 minutes. Stretch each foot, ankle and Achilles tendon before and after your exercise. A series of warm-up exercises will help relieve any muscle stiffness or pulled muscles that may be caused by walking. Consult a podiatrist, physical therapist or exercise physiologist for recommended exercises to loosen up the heel cords (Achilles and calf) and thigh muscles.
Ready, set, walk: Begin your exercise program slowly and increase as you go. Don’t walk too far or too fast in the beginning. To prevent injury, watch where you walk and avoid uneven walking surfaces or stepping on rocks as much as possible. Vary the incline on a treadmill or hills during your exercise regimen. Do not walk uphill all the time.
If your feet hurt, stop walking. It is not normal to have foot pain when exercising. Don’t try to “work through the pain”. It is recommended that you see a podiatrist to determine the cause of the foot pain and have it treated before resuming your exercise program.
Move at a steady pace, brisk enough to make you breathe harder and your heart beat faster. Breathe more deeply as you go. Walk with your head erect, back straight, and abdomen flat. Keep your legs out front and your knees slightly bent. Swing your arms, so that the forearms are parallel to the ground. As you walk, land on the heel of your foot and roll forward to push off on the ball of your foot. At least at the beginning, confine your walks to flat surfaces, avoiding excessively steep hills.
Safety is key: If you’re walking in the early morning or evening, be sure to wear clothing with reflective material and walk with a friend for safety. At least tell someone the route you are walking and what time you are expected to return. If you are walking in the heat of the day, or for long distances, take some water along to stay hydrated. Always cool down and stretch after a long, brisk walk.
By following these recommendations, you can successfully start a walking program and achieve your goal to improve your health this year. Walk for the health of it!
• For more information, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.apma.org. To see a podiatrist, telephone 325-2996 for an appointment, visit Bahamas Foot Centre on Rosetta Street, or call 394-5824 for an appointment; or visit Bahamas Surgical Associates Centre on Hilltop Medical Centre off 4th Terrace Collins Avenue. In Grand Bahama, call Lucayan Medical Centre at 373-7400 for an appointment.