Make Walking Your Top Resolution for 2015

Related topics: Getting Enough Exercise

Take steps to take more steps!

In the last issue of Aging in Stride, we looked at one of the many recent studies confirming that sitting most of the day is bad for our health. Prolonged sitting has been linked to heart disease, joint pain, diabetes and dementia. The worst news is that even those of us who faithfully follow a fitness routine for an hour most days can still be negatively impacted by sitting down the rest of the day.

But what can we do if we work at a desk job, or for other reasons spend most of our days sitting? The key, say experts, is to take frequent, short walking breaks. University of Indiana researchers recently investigated the way sitting affects our arteries. Studying a group of test subjects, they found that blood flow in the legs was impaired by as much as 50 percent after just one hour of sitting. But when the test participants got up and walked for approximately five minutes every hour, the effect was reversed. And they didn't need to break a sweat: an average speed of two miles per hour was fine. "American adults sit for approximately eight hours a day," said researcher Surabh Thosar. "It is interesting to see that light physical activity can help in preventing this impairment."

However, these short breaks don't take the place of our usual exercise routine. A good exercise program includes muscle strengthening, aerobic and balance exercises. Walking provides some of all three of these exercise types. Indeed, walking is so connected to healthy aging that University of Kansas researchers found a connection between the walkability of neighborhoods and the brain health of a community's senior residents! So this New Year, resolve to make time for a brisk walk of at least half an hour, most days of the week.

Here are some tips for safe, healthy walking:

Wear comfortable, light-weight, loose-fitting clothing. Dress for the weather. Wearing several thin layers lets you adjust to the day's variation in temperature, and you can shed layers as your own body temperature increases with exertion. A hat and gloves are especially important on cold or rainy days.

When planning a walking program, start at the bottom—with your feet:

  • Keep toenails properly trimmed.
  • Wear cotton socks that aren't tight. 
  • Use protective material for corns or calluses. 
  • See a podiatrist if your feet hurt.

Well-fitting shoes are a must. Casual shoes with rubber or crepe soles are recommended, with a laced shoe offering the best support for your feet. A good walking shoe should include:

  • Proper fit
  • Flexibility
  • Arch support
  • Elevated heel of 1/2 inch as a cushion
  • Leather or nylon mesh upper to allow for breathing.

Here are some tips to get the most from your walking:

  • Walk briskly enough to deepen your breathing comfortably and increase your heart rate.
  • Focus on a tall posture, head up with shoulders back and abdomen in.
  • Land on the heel of your foot. Roll forward onto the ball of your foot, then push off from your toes.
  • Take even, comfortable strides.
  • Allow your arms to swing freely and rhythmically.
  • Take full breaths and exhale completely.

Proceed at your own level of fitness. Start with at least a five-minute warmup, and end with a five to ten minute cooldown. Do some stretching exercises before and after. Remember: your body responds to changes in physical activity. Always listen to your body's messages. A good rule of thumb is the "talk test"—if you find it difficult to comfortably carry on a conversation while walking, slow your pace.

If you're bored with the same old sidewalks of your neighborhood, add some variety. How about shopping areas, school tracks, public parks, college campuses or the zoo? On days when the weather is cold or rainy, go to the mall or an indoor track.

Be safe on the street. Obey pedestrian safety rules. Cross at crosswalks, obey "walk/don't walk" signs, and don't cross against the light. Choose routes with sidewalks and paths when possible.

Make yourself visible. When walking, you want to see and be seen. Wear bright colors in the daytime. At night, carry a flashlight. Wearing reflective materials can also make you more visible to drivers. You can buy shoes, vests, jackets, wristlets and backpacks with reflective strips.

If you use a cane, walker or other assistive device, talk to your healthcare provider about using it correctly.

The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Talk to your doctor about an exercise program that is right for you, and about proper footwear for your workout.

Source: IlluminAge Communication Partners; copyright 2015 IlluminAge.

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