Walking is a great form of exercise because it can attend to more than just the physical needs of a person, containing possibilities for nurturing aspects of the spirit, mind, and emotional self as well.
The speed at which you walk is more important than the distance in terms of maximizing cardiovascular benefits. Walking helps decrease blood pressure and increase HDL (healthy) cholesterol. Regular walking preserves bone density and increases bone mass, helping to prevent osteoporosis. As with most forms of exercise, walking can also reduce stress. If weight loss or maintenance is a concern, walking is a good way to burn calories.
Wear comfortable, loose clothing that is layered so that you can peel off an outer layer if you heat up too much. Invest in a pair of walking shoes—that’s right, shoes made specifically for walking. You’ll be rewarded by injury prevention, improved performance, and perhaps most important of all, comfort. Put reflective tape on shoes or clothing so that you can be clearly seen if walking on a road in twilight or darkness.
It’s important to drink before and after your walk and to carry four to eight ounces of water with you while walking. If you feel thirsty, that means you’re already partially dehydrated, so make it a practice to take sips of water every few minutes or so as you walk.
If you don’t live where you can walk someplace close to nature, choose whatever route will help lift your spirits as well as provide desired terrain. On a road, walk facing oncoming traffic so you can be seen by oncoming cars, except in cases of blind curves and narrow turns, where it is best to cross to the side of the road that allows you a better view of traffic.
Five to ten minutes of warm-up is recommended. This can be simply walking at a slower pace or doing another slow, rhythmic exercise that involves the buttocks, hips, and thigh muscles, such as easy cycling or marching in place. Transition to a brisk walking pace.
Good posture is important. Stand tall with your back straight, and swing your arms naturally at your sides. To self-test for walking intensity, you should be able to carry on bits of a slightly breathy conversation during your walk—if you can only gasp for air without uttering a sound, you need to slow down.
After your period of brisk walking, a cool-down time of five to ten minutes allows your body temperature to decrease and your blood flow to reroute itself from the working muscles back to the rest of the body. Slow walking or stretching is recommended for a cool-down. (Note that stretching is not recommended for warm-up, when muscles are not as flexible and may be strained.)
Setting daily, weekly, and monthly goals is a good way to stay focused and motivated. For older adults or people who may be less physically active, start out slowly and gradually build up your time by walking longer distances or walking more briskly. Twenty to 30 minutes of walking (inclusive of brisk walking for about half of that time), three to five times per week, is good for the cardiovascular system.
Enjoy the easy rhythm of your body, drink in the fresh air, and let your eyes rest on whatever is pleasing along the way. Just because you’re getting a healthy workout doesn’t mean it has to feel like work!