The Benefits of Walking
A Q & A with Alison Katz, PT, DPT
Alison Katz, PT, DPT, a physical therapist in the Department of Rehabilitation Services at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, tells us why walking is so good for our overall health and shares some helpful — as well as interesting — walking tips and facts.
Q. What are the benefits of walking?
Alison Katz, PT, DPT: Walking can help you lose weight and build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints. It can help enhance your mood and energy level, and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Walking also reduces your risk of developing heart disease (including high blood pressure and cholesterol), diabetes and colon cancer.
Q. How many steps are recommended each day and why?
Alison Katz, PT, DPT: 10,000 steps a day has been recommended for active adults. Medical experts, including those from the American Heart Association, have agreed that 10,000 is a healthy number and is the rough equivalent of the U.S. Surgeon General's recommendation of 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.
Q. How far is 10,000 steps?
Alison Katz, PT, DPT: The distance covered over 10,000 steps depends on how big your steps are, which depends on how tall you are. The average stride length for women is 2.2 feet; for men it’s 2.5 feet. So the equivalent of 10,000 steps for women would be about 4.1 miles, and for men it would be about 4.7 miles. Using a pedometer is a great way to track you daily steps.
Q. How do you choose the right sneaker, and is other gear necessary?
Alison Katz, PT, DPT: It isn't necessary to buy the most expensive shoes, but you should wear a sneaker that is made for walking. Here are some tips:
- Look for cushioning in the heel that allows for shock absorption.
- The sole of the shoe should bend at the ball of the foot and provide overall cushioning.
- The midsole of the shoe should support the arch of your foot.
- The toe box should allow enough room for your toes to move.
- Shop for shoes later in the day when your feet are more swollen and bring the socks you will be walking in to ensure a good fit.
- Walk around in the store for a little while to make sure the shoes feel comfortable.
- Replace your shoes when they begin to look worn out.
As far as walking attire goes, wear comfortable clothing made of moisture-wicking fabric if you think you might work up a sweat. Dress in layers since you may start out feeling cool, but will likely get warmer as you start moving.
Q. What are some tips for people new to a walking program?
Alison Katz, PT, DPT: Start slowly. Not everyone will reach the recommended 10,000 steps per day in the beginning. Wear a pedometer on your waist and go about your daily activities for one week to establish your baseline. Calculate your average steps per day, and for the next two weeks try to boost your daily steps by 20 percent each week until you reach 10,000.
Don’t be discouraged over sore leg muscles. This is a sign that your muscles are getting stronger and the soreness will subside after a few days. Stretching exercises can help to maintain and improve your flexibility — and can feel great at the end of a workout. Stretch after you walk, just until you feel a mild pull (but not pain) and hold the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
Also, make sure to bring water and wear sunscreen when walking outside.
Q. What are some good ways to motivate yourself to walk — and keep walking?
Alison Katz, PT, DPT: First, consider all of the mental and physical benefits of walking. As you establish a consistent walking program, start to pay attention to the varied benefits you are experiencing: Are you less tired? Less sore? Are you sleeping better? Do you have more energy? Are your clothes getting looser?
Also, exercise is more fun, and holds you more accountable, when you’re not doing it alone. Gather some friends and find some walking trails in your neighborhood, or do some laps around the block.
If you’re walking alone, put together a music playlist that will keep you energized. (Start off by downloading BIDMC’s own walking song, “Walkin’ Around Boston,” at bidmc.org/walking. It was specially written and recorded for the BIDMC Walking Club.)
There are also free smartphone apps, like BIDMC’s pedometer app or the American Heart Association’s walking paths app, that will help get you off on the right foot.
Q. Should you set some short-term/long-term goals?
Alison Katz, PT, DPT: You may have an ultimate goal that motivates you to start a walking program, such as losing weight or lowering your cholesterol, but it is important to also set small, measurable and achievable goals. This strategy will help you to recognize your progress and stick with it.
|» Increase my steps by 20 percent this week.
» Lose one pound this week.
» Take the stairs instead of the elevator this week.
» Ask a friend to join me on a walk this week.
|» Lose weight.
» Lower my blood pressure.
» Lower my cholesterol.
» Improve my energy level so I can be more active with family and friends.
Q. What are some ideas to get in extra steps each day?
Alison Katz, PT, DPT: There are plenty of little things you can do to help rack up those 10,000 steps:
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
- Get off the bus or train one stop early and walk the rest of the way.
- Walk to the store instead of driving.
- Park in the furthest spot away at the grocery store and walk to the door.
- Take the dog for an extra-long walk.
- After you eat lunch, go for a 10-minute walk.
- Instead of sending an e-mail to a colleague, get up and walk to their desk.
Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
Posted May 2013