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The phrase "Walking is man's best medicine," allegedly spoken by Hippocrates two millennia ago, is even more timely today. This fact is particularly true in industrialized societies where new technologies have not only changed the way we work but, even more profoundly, have also affected our life styles by reducing the physical effort of most of our daily activities (with the exception of sports).
Walking can be used for pleasure and improved health by incorporating it into our daily routine. One cannot overrate the many benefits of walking since there is strong scientific evidence to support them.*
* Physical Activity and Heath: A Report of the Surgeon General US Department of Health and Human Services, 1996
* National Service Framework for Coronary Heart Disease. UK Department of Health, 2000
Regular walking has a direct impact on the cardiovascular and musculoskeletal systems, by:
Regular walking also improves general health and longevity. According to the US Report of the Surgeon General, not only do walkers live longer but also the quality of their lives improves dramatically.
If you walk regularly means you walk daily, or at least a few times a week for about 30 minutes or longer. When you walk regularly, much like other kinds of moderate and low impact physical activities that involve the whole body, you can greatly improve your cardiorespiratory fitness and function. Also, once you become a regular walker:
Your body weight reflects the balance between the calories you take in as food and the calories you expend through your normal daily physical activities in life. Walking for 30 minutes covers a distance of 2.0 to 2.5 km and burns about 125 calories (520 kiloJoules). This amount may not seem like much, but if you walked five days a week within one year you would burn over 32,000 calories which would burn off more than 5 kg of fat. Moreover, the latest scientific evidence shows that you would derive even greater benefits from walking if you burned a minimum of 2000 calories per week by walking (about 8 hours a week, spread throughout the week).
Walking, particularly when walking with good company and in pleasant surroundings, reduces depression and anxiety. Walkers also tend to be good sleepers.
Gentle walking is often prescribed for people suffering from a variety of medical conditions.
At the beginning you may be able to walk only a short distance at a slow pace, but if you persist you will soon be able to increase your distance and speed up your recovery.
Try to walk naturally, keeping in mind the following tips:
Good posture is crucial to get the best out of walking:
Breathe regularly and steadily – neither too shallow nor too deep:
Frequency, duration, and tempo (pace, speed):
If you experience discomfort or pain while walking, stop:
Shoes are the single most important piece of equipment for walking, but they do not have to be specialty "walking" shoes. Any pair of shoes that you can walk in for an extended time would do. However, if you do not have such a pair and are looking to buy some, we offer the following tips:
Always get fitted for shoes in the evening as your feet swell by the end of the day.
It is important to get a good pair with the following characteristics:
The question "what to wear for my daily walk" under ideal weather conditions is not difficult. Practically speaking, wear anything and everything that is loose, comfortable and sufficiently warm. Clothing becomes crucial when you face inclement weather.
It is not clear whether stretching exercises that have traditionally been recommended before any vigorous activity are beneficial or not. However, to be on the safe side, we suggest that you start your walking session at a slow tempo for five minutes, then move up to a moderate tempo and from there gradually speed up to your regular cruising speed. This 5-minute start will help loosen your muscles and minimize the possibility of pulling or tearing them.
At the end of the session, to avoid any possible dizziness from abruptly stopping your physical exertion, slow down your tempo for about 3 to 5 min.
Be aware that wearing shoes or boots even if they fit comfortably but have rigid arch supports can, over time, degrade the natural flexibility of the foot. This is because the very muscles that give the arch its resilient quality will eventually weaken, owing to the unyielding rigidity of the footwear which immobilizes them.
So, no matter how great the shoe, or how careful you are about your health, occasionally going barefoot is beneficial, because being barefoot can partly restore the natural flexibility of your feet. This is why we suggest walking barefoot around the house, in your backyard, on the beach, or any place where there is no obvious hazard to your feet.