Making Fitness a Walk in the Park

A good walking program needs a little preparation, experts say

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SATURDAY, June 25, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- One of the best steps to fitness may include footsteps.

Walking is a superb, low-impact way to develop and maintain fitness and is associated with a reduced risk of heart attack and type 2 diabetes. It's also associated with weight control, stress reduction, and increased muscle tone and energy, according to experts at the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).

But APTA member Teresa Schuemann, director of physical therapy at Skyline Hospital in White Salmon, Wash., said any good walking program involves a few important preparations.

"For walkers 50 years and older, in particular, it is important to first review overall general physical health with a qualified physician before beginning any exercise program. Pre-existing medical conditions, such as high blood pressure or bone and joint aches, will negatively impact any exercise program -- even walking -- and need to be addressed before starting," Schuemann said.

She said there are several factors that contribute to a successful walking program:

  • Pace yourself. Begin by walking slowly and easily, gradually increasing pace and distance. As a gauge, walkers should be able to maintain a normal conversation without feeling winded.
  • Wear proper shoes. It's a good idea to buy them at a professional shoe store where trained staff can fit you with shoes that best match your feet. For example, people with high arches require shoes with more cushioning, while people with flat feet need shoes with more arch support.
  • Find a healthy gait. Everyone has a particular style, which helps determine how stress is distributed to the various parts of your feet and legs. If you suffer problems such as leg cramps, knee pain, a sore Achilles tendon or back pain, it may be the result of a gait problem. Consult a physical therapist.
  • Drink enough water. The amount you need varies depending on walking conditions and weather. You should drink 8-12 oz. of water every 30 minutes while walking.

More information:

The Weight Control Information Network has more about walking.

SOURCE: American Physical Therapy Association, news release, June 2005

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