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WALKING FOR FITNESS

Walking 101

WALKING is the ideal workout for many people. It's easy, accessible, inexpensive and virtually injury-free.

Besides helping you lose or maintain your weight, a regular walking program can help lower your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and osteoporosis.

You should see a doctor before you begin walking if you smoke, have a chronic condition or you're a man over 40 or a woman over 50 who has been sedentary. But you're ready to start once you've taken that precaution.

GET EQUIPPED

All you need for walking is a good, supportive pair of shoes. Walking shoes -- unlike aerobics, tennis and running shoes -- are made for the linear walking movement, with plenty of forefoot flexibility, heel cushioning and heel support. A walking shoe's lower-profile heel also helps you roll through your foot and avoid shin pain.

START EASY

Always do less than you think you can when you begin; your muscles and heart need to get used to the movement.

Initially aim for 30 minutes, three to four times a week. If necessary, break that time into three 10-minute walks. Studies have found you'll gain nearly the same health benefits as when you do it all at once, although you won't burn as many calories.

Don't worry if you last one mile or less. It takes time to build strength and endurance. But even a few minutes of additional movement can make your heart healthier.

WARM UP, STRETCH, COOL DOWN

Start each walk at a very easy pace: Spend three or four minutes moving at about half the speed you intend to go.

This increases the blood flow to your muscles so they become more pliable. A warm-up also increases the lubricating fluid in your joints.

Then stop and loosen the muscles you'll use. For walking, that means the front and back of your upper and lower legs (quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and shins). Also stretch your upper back and shoulders by reaching high over your head, then pulling your clasped hands in front of you as you round your back.

Then pull them behind you to open your chest.

Go through the same pattern after your walk. First, slow your pace to stabilize your breathing, then stop and stretch the same muscles.

Follow these two rules to keep yourself injury-free:

  • Increase your mileage by no more than 10% per week. For example: If you walk four miles one week, don't walk more than 4-1/2 miles the next week.

  • Alternate your workout days. If you're walking three times a week, walk every other day. As you begin to walk more often, alternate the intensity of your walks. Go for an easy or shorter stroll one day, then walk harder or farther the next.

STICK TO IT

Sometimes the most difficult part of exercising is sticking with it.

Try these tips:

  • Make an appointment with yourself and write it in your daily planner.

  • Ask a friend to come along; a waiting companion will make you more likely not to skip your workout.

  • Be realistic about when you'll work out. Don't promise you'll walk at dawn when you've never been an early riser.

  • Vary your routine by adding hills or stairs, or change locations or directions.

  • Monitor your progress by keeping a log. There's nothing more encouraging than seeing success.

Safety Tips for Walkers

FITNESS WALKING is one of the safest exercises you can do. To keep it that way, follow these safety tips:

  • Avoid walking alone. Walking with a friend or family member increases your safety.

  • Always walk facing traffic. Stay on the sidewalk or near the side of the road. Be alert to the movement of cars around you. Turn around and walk in the opposite direction if someone is following you in a car. If another pedestrian makes you uncomfortable, cross the street and walk to a safe place such as a store or nearby residence.

  • Walk during daylight hours. Wear reflective clothing, carry a small flashlight and walk in well-lit areas if you must walk after dark or before dawn.

  • Carry identification and change for a phone call. Leave jewelry and expensive watches at home.

  • Don't wear personal headphones. You need to hear traffic noises and the movements of others around you.

  • Don't walk along highways or main commuting routes. Carbon monoxide levels are highest along such streets.

  • Leave a note or let someone know your route and when you expect to return.

  • If a dog threatens you, yell, ""Go home!"" with authority. Avoid eye contact. Use a thick stick, not your arm, to protect yourself.

  • Be unpredictable. Vary your route or the time of day you walk to help prevent the likelihood that someone could wait for you.

Warm-Up and Cool-Down Stretches for Walkers

PROPER STRETCHING helps you maintain flexibility in your joints and muscles, and it increases the stress your muscles and tendons can endure without pain or injury.

If you're just starting a stretching program, repeat each of the following stretches five times and hold each stretch for 10 seconds. As your flexibility increases, repeat each stretch 10 times and hold it for 20 to 30 seconds.

Be sure to breathe regularly as you stretch.

Do these stretches at the beginning of your workout, after you've warmed up by walking for five to seven minutes. Also do them at the end of your workout, after you've cooled down by walking at a slower pace for five to seven minutes.

HAMSTRING STRETCH

Stand with one foot on a chair, bench or step. Point the toes of this foot straight up. Slowly bend forward, as if you're trying to touch your nose to the knee of your raised leg. Don't bounce. Slowly straighten up after 10 or more seconds. Repeat with the other leg.

UPPER-CALF MUSCLES STRETCH

Stand with one foot 18 inches in front of the other and 3 to 4 feet from a wall or tree. Lean forward with your back straight and place both hands on the wall or tree. Slowly bring your hips forward while keeping your back leg straight and your heels flat on the floor. Hold the position for 10 or more seconds, then ease your hips back. Repeat with the other leg.

LOWER-CALF MUSCLES AND ACHILLES TENDON STRETCH

Start with your feet, hands and body in the same position as the upper-calf muscles stretch. Slowly bend your knees, keeping your heels flat on the floor. Hold for 10 or more seconds, then rise slowly. Repeat with the other leg. Alternate this stretch with the upper-calf muscles stretch.

QUADRICEPS STRETCH

Stand next to a wall, tree or chair for balance. Reach back and slowly pull your non- weight-bearing foot up toward your buttocks until you feel the tension in your front thigh muscles. Hold the foot for 10 or more seconds; release and repeat with the other leg.

Comfortable Walking in Any Weather

DON'T LET cold temperatures, rain or hot weather deter you from your walking routine. Take the following weather-related precautions, and a change in the weather won't tempt you to skip your workout.

COLD WEATHER

  • Dress in layers that can be removed easily as you warm up. Start with long underwear or tights and a turtleneck. Add a sweater, windproof jacket, windproof and weatherproof pants, a warm hat and gloves.

  • Wear waterproof shoes and wool socks if it's cold and wet.

  • Wear sunscreen. Sun reflecting on snow and ice can cause a severe sunburn.

  • Wear shoes with nonskid soles and shorten your stride when walking on icy pavement.

  • Don't walk after drinking alcohol. Beer, wine and spirits dilate your blood vessels, making you lose heat quickly.

  • Don't smoke before or during your walk. Nicotine constricts your blood vessels, reducing the supply of blood and oxygen to your hands and feet.

WET WEATHER

  • Wear rain-resistant clothing made of materials such as Gore-Tex. Wearing a long rain poncho with a hood is an alternative.

  • Wear waterproof or leather shoes to keep your feet drier. Wool-blend socks will keep your feet warm even when they're wet.

  • Pay attention to severe storms. Return home or seek shelter if lightning or dangerous winds are in the area.

HOT WEATHER

  • Apply sunscreen.

  • Wear loose-fitting, lightweight, light-colored clothing. Breathable fabric is best.

  • Wear a hat or visor and sunglasses.

  • Avoid vigorous exercise between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Walk in the early morning or evening.

  • Drink lots of water before, during and after your walk to avoid dehydration.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, visit www.fitness.gov.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, visit www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity.
 

ATTENTION: Information delivered through Vitality-on-Demand(TM) is the opinion of the sourced authors and organizations. Personal decisions regarding health, diet, exercise or other matters should be made only after consultation with the reader's own medical and professional advisers. This material MAY NOT BE REPRODUCED FOR REDISTRIBUTION without written permission from Vitality®.





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© 2011 Krames StayWell 2011. The information in this newsletter is intended to be used as a general guideline and should not replace the advice of your doctor. Always consult your doctor for personal decisions. Models used for illustrative purposes only. Material may not be reproduced without written permission from StayWell Custom Communications.