OSWEGO, NY – What exercise is free, takes a minimal amount of equipment, can be done almost anywhere and has wonderful health benefits?
The answer is walking.
The weather is wonderful right now, and I have had patients say that it feels so good to get outdoors and walk.
As a chiropractor, I like to hear that because there are so many health benefits to this form of exercise such as: lowering blood pressure, burning calories, shaping and toning your legs and butt, strengthening back muscles,Â improving the cardio-vascular system, reducing stress, enhancing sleep and improving our mood, to mention only a few benefits.
As I have suggested earlier in my articles, walking can help arthritic joints.
It provides low-impact exercise.
As you have heard me caution you before, if you have any health condition, before you begin an exercise program, consult with your doctor.
He can help you tailor it to your state of health.
Before you begin your walking program, whether it be intensive or slow-paced, make sure you have the proper shoes.
The other day I was in a local store looking for a pair of sneakers.
There are some that are pretty colorful and grab your attention from a distance, but fashion should not be your number one priority.
You want a stable sneaker that fits your foot properly.
It should provide flexibility yet cradle your foot securely.
If it pinches, feels too short or too narrow, keep on looking.
Many of us have learned the hard way that they do not stretch out and get better with time.
Get a pair that feels comfortable from the start.
Leather is the preferred material as it allows your feet to breathe.
Many of us go shopping on a Saturday morning or our day off when we have time and are rested, when our feet are rested.
The best way to get a proper fit in sneakers, however, is to go looking at the end of the day, when your feet have walked for a day, when they are swollen and tired.
That is the way to get the proper fit.
Some sneaks have wider toe boxes than others.
Some have roll bars for those of us who pronate and have a tendency to wear our shoes down on a certain side.
The list of features goes on.
Consult with an expert in the shoe department. She/he can be invaluable.
I learned this first-hand.
Several years ago, I bought an excellent sneaker, good brand and very supportive.
It did not, however, work for me. I later learned from a shoe expert that I had an excellent shoe, however it was not the best for a person that pronates.
Asking questions about the shoe and the features for your foot type can save money in the long run and much discomfort.
Several patients have asked me about the new kind of sneaker that has a rocker type sole.
After that, I examined a pair in the store.
The verdict on those is not in as they are too new.
However, as a doctor, I am concerned about the lack of stability and the heightened chance of tripping or falling as a result of being off balance.
I would suggest not even considering them if you have any stability problems, spinal problems or foot problems.
I would caution people not to wear them on uneven surfaces and be especially cautious going up and down stairs.
Never wear them on a treadmill. If you are set on getting a pair, try them out in your house first, and then wear them for very short periods to get adjusted to them.
If you have never walked for exercise, start out slowly.
Try 15 minutes and when that becomes easy increase your pace and distance.
I have heard people say they have gone on walks and set a distance as their goal, only to find they were tired and the reality set in that they had to walk back.
Factor that in when you set your route.
We all, at one time or another, have set overly ambitious goals.
It can discourage us and cause us to abandon a good practice.
As with any exercise, warm up and then stretch out. Yes, that is right. Warm up and then stretch out.
They are two different activities. It is important to warm up the entire body with special attention to the muscles you will be using.
This increases flexibility and stretching helps prevents tears which can result from working cold muscles.
When walking it is important to stretch out the calf and shin muscles.
The most common way employed by many runners is the stretching negative position where you place the ball of your foot, not your toes on the edge of a platform and lower the heels to stretch the calf. Hold that for 15-30 seconds then alternate legs.
To stretch the shins/tibial muscles, place one foot out and plantar flex/extend you foot.
To avoid back pain while walking, stand straight, look with your head level and chin parallel to the ground.
Looking down at the ground is a strain on your neck and can cause you to miss potential hazards in the surrounding environment.
Arching the back or leaning too far forward or backward puts stress on your back muscles.
Your arms should be held at 90 degrees and your hands should hang loosely.
Clinching your fists for long periods is not good as it can elevate your blood pressure.
Keep your hands close to your body.
As you walk, the arm opposite the foot you are leading with will come straight forward not at a diagonal.
Walkers take smaller steps.
Their stride is longer behind their body.
This gives you more power and helps you walk more efficiently.
People that walk a lot gradually increase the number of steps per minute.
If you wish to become a dedicated walker but have never really done it, work up to it slowly.
Always be aware of your posture and form.
If you get too tired, you start compromising your posture and form and this will set you up for injuries to your neck, shoulder, back, leg muscles etc.
If you are going to begin a walking program and you have any health conditions, check with your doctor for perimeters and modifications.
I know I said this earlier in my article, but it is so important that it bears repeating.
If you have anyÂ misalignments in your spine see your chiropractor to correct these before you start your exercise program.
Enjoy your walking experience.
Dr. McCaffrey operates McCaffrey Chiropractic on 184 W. Fourth. St., Suite #1.Â You may contact him by calling 342-3877 or www.mccaffreychiro.com