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Family Health Magazine - ACTIVE LIVING

Seven Wonders of Walking
How Walking can safeguard your health

How many people have discovered all of the seven wonders of the world? Given the distances and costs involved, the answer probably is, not many. However, there are seven wonders that are close to your home, cost very little and can make a huge difference to your health. These are the seven wonders of the walk. Sure, maybe we are using the word 'wonder' a little loosely. A wonder is a miraculous event and there is nothing miraculous about the benefits of walking.

On the other hand, wonder can mean amazing or remarkable. In that case, the benefits of walking are truly wonderful. Both public and professional education promote the value of physical activity to a healthy life. Despite the wealth of encouragement available, many people have not changed to a more active lifestyle. Maybe this article will convince you that walking can be the physical activity for you. Some of the 'wonders' described apply to any type of exercise including the very affordable and accessible activity of walking. Other 'wonders' serve to show the unique benefits of walking as a fitness activity. Follow the path to the seven wonders of the walk.

Getting ready to visit the wonders

Walking is an activity that needs little preparation. The most important item you need is proper footwear. As you start your program, it is likely that you already have something suitable but before long you should consider buying footwear designed for walking. When you buy shoes, wear the socks that you will wear when walking. Your toes should not feel pinched and the shoes should feel comfortable immediately.

Walking shoes or lightweight boots with comfortable arch supports and a good tread are ideal for most conditions. The average life of a good walking shoe is 800 kilometres. At 25 kilometres a week, a pair of walking shoes will last about eight months. After that time, even though the uppers may look fine, the foam cushioning that supports your feet may no longer be doing its job.

You may find that socks of a synthetic material make your feet burn when you walk and you are more comfortable in natural fibres. However, synthetics tend to wick moisture away from your body and help to keep your feet dry. A blend of the two may the best choice.

Many people walk with headphones, listening to music. If you choose to do this, you can buy tapes that are paced to particular speeds. You have the benefit of distraction from the music, plus a way to set your pace. There is one major precaution if you wear headphones. Do not turn the volume so loud that you cannot hear street sounds and warnings of danger.

Wonder 1:
A low-impact route to fitness

You are most likely to succeed with your walking program if you start small. Begin with a shortstroll of 10 to 15 minutes. As you feel comfortable with that, gradually increase the distance. A walk of 30 minutes, five or six times a week should be your goal but do not feel the benefits are lost if you do not go that far. Go the distance that is comfortable for you.

You can choose from a wide variety of locations to walk. Your local neighbourhood is as close as your front door and it costs nothing. You can provide distractions for yourself in simple ways such as watching if the household with the well-manicured lawn in summer is also the one first out with the snow shovel in winter, or watching for the early birds in spring.

You may prefer an indoor walk and you can also do this at no cost if you have access to a shopping mall. Most of these open long before store opening time and you will be surprised how many fellow walkers you meet. Some malls even have walking clubs if you want to add a social element to your activity. Be aware that the floors in some malls are slippery so for a brisk walk you still need your proper shoes with a good tread.

If you have a sports centre close by, you may find it has a walking track with measured distances so you can keep track of the length of your walk. The cost for using these facilities is not high. Some entrance fee options will permit you to use them for other activities such as swimming. After you have begun a walking program, you will probably be motivated for several days. However, it is not unusual for the first enthusiasm to wear off. It becomes easy to find reasons not to walk.

This is the time to strengthen your resolve and stick to your plan. In a few short weeks you will feel the benefits. Meanwhile to keep yourself going, try a few tricks.

  • Choose a route you would like and drive it to check the distance. Each time you go for awalk, use that as your basic measure and try to better your distance and time.
  • Pedometers are an inexpensive tool to measure your distance. Sometimes being able to see that you really did walk your planned distance and you have energy left over makes you feel keen to go again the next day. Some pedometers have a dial that keeps a running tally of the distance you walk. This helps you set a goal for a week and keep track of your success achieving it.
  • You might prepare a chart that you can fill in each time you walk. This often keeps you going rather than have blank columns for the days you planned to walk but decided not to. If losing weight is a goal of your walking program, you could add a column for your weekly weigh-in.
Wonder 2:
Walking in all seasons

It is no secret that any season in Canada can bring its share of changing weather. You can still walk despite the weather - you just need a little more preparation. You will not need a reminder to wear a hat in the depths of winter but you might be interested to know that your hat is important for warmth since much of your body heat is lost through your head. On sunny days a hat is a must, preferably one with a broad brim to keep the sun off the back of your neck and your face.

On hot days, light cottons keep you cool while protecting you from the sun's rays. During a light rain, your top layer of clothing should be waterproof. Windbreakers with a waterproof layer keep out both wind and rain, although they have the disadvantage that you will perspire and may be chilled from your damp clothing. One rainproof material called Gore-Tex™ has tiny holes to allow body moisture to escape but keep rain out and body heat in. Clothing made of Gore-Tex™ is more expensive but can be a good long term investment.

For cold days, having many of the recent lightweight warm materials such as Thinsulate™ and fleece in your wardrobe will give you added warmth. In a jacket your thighs do not get much protection and you will probably be more comfortable with an extra layer on your legs in the form of long underwear or a pair of leggings designed forwarmth. Your clothing should be loose enough topermit you to wear several layers.

If you are walking outside when conditions are slippery, extra precautions are needed. One option is a stick that has an ice-pick tip. The tip can beflipped up when not needed and you have a regularwalking stick. Another possibility is a pair of soles with several small spikes imbedded in rubber that slip on over your shoes. These are awkward to use on dry pavement but there is usually no difficulty finding snow or ice if you need the spikes in the first place. Also, if you come to dry patches, they slip off easily and are light to carry.

On a winter day when there is a breeze, even a very slight one, it can feel very cold. You may be more comfortable walking into the wind at the start, while you are still warm. On your return, the wind is at your back and feels less chilling.

Wonder 3:
Disease prevention

Heart benefits

Your heart is a muscle similar to other muscles in your body. Just like any other muscle, the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. Walking briskly three hours a week significantly reduces risk of heart disease.

If the arteries in your legs are narrowed and circulation is poor, walking can result in pain in your calves which goes away with rest. Walking despite the pain can be beneficial for people with this problem as it can cause new arteries to be opened up.

Cholesterol

Regular exercise helps to lower theLDL (low density lipo-protein or 'bad' cholesterol) and raise the HDL (high density lipo-protein or 'good' cholesterol). One study has shown that young to middle age women who walk 24 kilometres a week improve their HDL levels even if they walk slowly. Another has shown that women after menopause who have mildly elevated LDL levels can lower these without medication or dietary change by walking five hours a week.

Diabetes

Research has shown a definite link between increased physical activity and the lowered risk of type 2 (late onset) diabetes. Exercise provides combined benefits of weight reduction and helping the body use the hormone insulin more effectively. Furthermore, the benefits are just as great with brisk walking as they are from more vigorous activity such as jogging.

Possible reduced risk of breast cancer

Although there is no definite evidence that exercise reduces the risk of breast cancer, it appears that this is so. Women who exercise regularly have a lower risk of breast cancer but these active women may do other beneficial things as well. The amount that exercise helps is unclear but there are the other benefits of exercise too, including weight loss and reduced cholesterol, which may be factors for at-risk women.

Wonder 4:
Weight Control

The process whereby your body converts calories to energy is called metabolism. As you grow older you still need the calories but your body uses them at a slower speed. But there is good news.
When you are physically active you are using your muscle and burning more calories. As a bonus, this increased use of calories does not slow down immediately when you stop exercise. While it gradually slows over a few hours, you are still using calories at a more rapid rate than you do when you are not active. To lose one pound you need to burn 3,500 more calories than you eat.

There is another aid to weight control from walking. When you exercise, your body fat is replaced by muscle. Five pounds of muscle burn 175 calories a day at rest while five pounds of fat only burn 10 calories. Even if your weight does not change, when you walk regularly your newly strengthened muscles will be burning more calories. When you walk you use 150 muscles. Most of these are the large muscles in your legs. Yet another benefit of walking - these large muscles burn more calories.

Wonder 5:
Stronger Bones

Bones get thinner, hence weaker, as you get older. This is osteoporosis. Women who have gone through menopause are the group most at risk of having thin bones but it happens to everyone with increasing age. That is no reason to sit back and think there is nothing you can do about it. Although osteoporosis may already have started, physical activity helps the bones to rebuild. What is also important to remember is that the thinning will occur more quickly if you are not getting exercise.

Wonder 6:  
Walking for all ages

One of the great joys of walking is that it can be done by people of almost any age. Young children can enjoy the routine and pleasures of a walk. A very young child can be brought along in one of the infant and child carriers you can wear while an older child can explore the many sights walking by your side. Another way to walk with your child is to use a three-wheeled all-terrain stroller. These have large inflatable tires, a lightweight design, and offer less resistance than a regular stroller when being pushed.

If you are starting to 'feel your age' and think that walking is too strenuous, think again. Although you might not walk with the same speed and ease as when you were younger, the important thing is to keep active to the best of your ability. Listen to hints from your body and take a day off if you do not feel quite up to scratch. But remember that many conditions are helped by an exercise program. Even joints painful with arthritis can be more comfortable when they are kept moving.

Wonder 7:
Well-being

There is little that can match the exhilaration and feeling of energy after a period of vigorous activity. You will sleep better, have more energy and find lots of health benefits in the process. Walking for exercise can be adapted to all seasons and all ages. Take yourself for a walk. Learn about the seven wonders!

There are an increasing number of stores and magazines offering information and equipment for walking. Also, if you have access to the Internet, there are several Web sites focused on walking, such as About.Walking.

FAMILY HEALTH is written with the assistance of
Alberta College of Family Physicians
FAMILY HEALTH is written
with the assistance of
The College of Family Physicans of Canada
Alberta College of Family Physicians
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2015, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6    [AL_FHb00]
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