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Walking Smart

Think of walking as a one-stop shop when it comes to optimal fitness

By Lisa Mulcahy

Love a daily stroll? Science says you're doing yourself a major favor. Research from Harvard Medical School suggests that if you're over 50, walking 4,000 to 7,500 steps a day is a significant boost not only to build longevity but a great way to improve your overall health. 

A woman exercising by walking outside. Next Avenue
According to the CDC, adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic exercise per week  |  Credit: Getty

Another study recently found that walking can relieve knee pain from osteoarthritis in people over 50. Also, great news: walking may slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

Walking can also help you lose weight, improve your heart health...and better your balance and coordination.

Think of walking as a one-stop shop when it comes to optimum fitness. According to the Mayo Clinic, walking can also help you lose weight, improve your heart health, strengthen your bones and muscles, boost your immune system, amp up your mood and energy, and better your balance and coordination.

So how can you make the most of your daily walk? Learn a few simple and innovative strategies, make them a habit, and watch your fitness level rise. 

What Kind Of Walking Shoe Is Right For You?

We asked three top experts to explain every wise move you should make regarding how to walk, the correct equipment you need, and how much walking you need to do to feel fantastic, inside and out.

Not that cute pair of sneakers you found at the thrift store. Pass them up! Never slip on secondhand sneakers (basically, you're putting on another person's foot problems as soon as you do). 

Instead, you want to start your walking regimen with a brand new pair of comfortable kicks. "In general, the right kind of shoe feels good from the start," says Grace Torres-Hodges, a board-certified podiatrist in Pensacola, Florida, and spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association.


The time of day you shop for walking shoes matters. "It's always best to try on any shoe later in the day; our feet tend to be more swollen then, sometimes almost a half to a shoe size larger," Torres-Hodges says. "And try on shoes with the same type of socks that you intend to wear them with."

Proper shoe selection also depends on the terrain you're walking on. For example, wear a traditional running shoe for walking on cement or hard indoor floors. 

"The design of a running shoe has the right foundational architecture for repetitive heel strikes and a sole designed for shock absorption," Torres-Hodge explains.

Having at least two pairs of shoes to rotate daily is good, like rotating your tires.

"Plus, they're breathable. If you walk on trails, consider trail-specific running shoes." In addition, you can check if the pair of shoes you're considering meets the American Podiatric Medical Association standards.

If your shoes hurt once you walk in them, they aren't suitable for you. "Don't walk through pain," says Torres-Hodges. "Pay attention to any corns or calluses you develop, as this is your skin's way of protecting itself from too much pressure." 

"Also, inspect your shoes regularly. Look for signs of wear and tear – once the soles show an uneven tread pattern, start looking for a new pair of shoes. Having at least two pairs of shoes to rotate daily is good, like rotating your tires."

And remember, you should be able to get six months' wear out of a pair of walking shoes; after that, time to rebuy.

What Is The Right Way To Walk?

It all starts with good posture. "You want to stand tall," says Cindy Sullivan, owner of Cindy Sullivan Fitness in Boston, who trains older adults. 

"Imagine a string pulling you up from the crown of your head. Envision that and do it, and you'll have the right form. Don't hunch over; your shoulders should be back and down. Then, when you start walking, maintain this straight position." 

"It's important not to lean forward or backward as you walk," Sullivan adds. "Make sure to keep your gaze straight ahead – don't look at your feet, look forward."

How do you know if you're walking in the proper form? "Pay attention to your gait," says Darin Padua, professor and chair of the department of exercise and sports science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 

"You want to pay attention to the movement of your hips, knees, and ankles. Movement posture is also important. For instance, some people walk as if leaning backward when their feet are in contact with the ground. If you recognize that you're doing this, begin to shift your trunk further forward gradually." 

"Try to keep your trunk centered over your hips. Also, only do a little side-to-side movement. Your hip should be moving forward and backward rather than swinging out and around."

Foot motion is also critical. Thus, pay attention to the heel-toe motion in your foot.

But what about moving your arms? Does that help you walk more efficiently? "The velocity of your walking should determine your arm swing," Padua continues.

"Arm swing can give you more momentum if walking at a higher velocity, such as up a grade or hill." It's important to swing your arms in a fluid movement. Thus, "aim for smooth, controlled movements overall."

Foot motion is also critical. "Pay attention to the heel-toe motion in your foot," says Torres-Hodges. "Strike with your heel, and push off with your toes."

"There should be fluidity in your movement. You can also use a hiking or walking stick, but not a cane – you want to keep your posture upright rather than bend your body forward," she adds.

How Much Should You Walk To Stay Healthy?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic weekly. "But you can break that up," says Sullivan. "Walk for ten minutes at a time if that works for you."

If this is your first time walking for fitness, check in with your doctor to ensure you're healthy enough to start, then aim for 10-minute increments that build toward 30 minutes per week at first. Don't try to do too much too soon.

Also, bring a water bottle with you. Stay nice and hydrated by drinking before, during, and after your walk before you get thirsty.

Once you've built some stamina, consider adding fun variety to your walking routine. Try walking in different locations, like a park you enjoy or on a nearby beach. You can also walk on a treadmill, on an indoor track, or at your local shopping mall. 

Lastly, changing the scenery will make your daily walk more exciting – another intelligent strategy. The more you enjoy yourself, the more motivated you'll be to keep walking for years to come.

Lisa Mulcahy is an internationally established health writer whose credits include Oprah Daily, Good Housekeeping, Prevention, Elle, Cosmopolitan, WebMD, Glamour, Men's Health, Marie Claire, The Los Angeles Times, Harper's Bazaar, Woman's Day, Health, Family Circle, Self, Redbook, Parade and Seventeen.  She is the author of eight best-selling books, including the Amazon #1 new release, The Essentials of Theater. Read More
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