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Is Walking an Effective & Safe Fitness Option?
“I do walking”. This is one of the most common answers we receive from our physiotherapy patients when we ask them what they do for their health and fitness. This is not surprising as walking is an extremely popular type of physical exercise. Walking certainly has many advantages, however is it always a safe and effective fitness option? Let’s examine this question in detail. In this article we’ll discuss the benefits of walking and focus on some things to consider in keeping with the safety and effectiveness of walking.
Walking is a type of low-impact exercise, which means that it’s relatively gentle on our spine and joints. Thus, it’s considered to be a safe option for many people who have issues with their lower back and lower body, such as with their hips, knees and ankles. Since walking is a type of weight bearing exercise, it helps to increase the bone density which in turn helps to reduce the risk of fractures. Therefore walking is a highly effective form of exercise for managing osteoporosis. On the same note, walking also helps to improve our balance, which subsequently reduces our risk of falls; this also helps to reduce the risk of fractures which might be sustained as a result of a fall.
Some of the other benefits of walking include the following:
- Increasing muscle strength and tone.
- Boosting the cardiovascular and pulmonary (heart and lung) function.
- Helping to manage hypertension and high cholesterol (this helps to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke).
- Reducing body fat (this also helps to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke).
- Improve our mood and emotional state (this can help to manage anxiety and depression).
As mentioned at the outset of the article, we can say with certainty that walking has quite a number of benefits and can be very useful for many people, particularly for those who need a type of exercise which is low impact and relatively gentle. Yet is it always effective? The answer depends on what we are trying to achieve when we choose walking as a fitness option and also on how we walk. If our main goals are to boost our mood and to lead a less sedentary lifestyle than even going for a gentle stroll will be sufficient. If, however, we are aiming to get the other benefits listed above than more is required.
Some ways to increase the effectiveness of walking include the following:
- Increasing the pace at which we walk.
- Increasing the distance we walk.
- Choosing paths which have sections that will require us to walk uphill.
- Walking with a backpack that has weight in it or to walk while holding some weights in both arms.
- Working towards starting interval running (walking followed by a burst of jogging, then going back to a walk and slowly reducing the length of walking so as to jog more).
Having said that, it’s also very important to consider the safety of some of the suggestions which we listed above. For some people, for example, increasing the pace/distance they walk or incorporating weights or interval running should be done with care. For example if a person hasn’t been able to do much exercise at all for a period of time (for instance after having surgery or due to a serious medical condition) then he might need to walk for short distances only or at a slow pace for a while before being able to make changes. Similarly for using weights. In those cases it’s particularly important to consult your treating doctor/specialist first. Walking uphill/downhill might not be safe for someone who has pelvic instability for example. In our physiotherapy practice, we always recommend to our patients with pelvic instability to walk on flat surfaces and only incorporate uphill/downhill walking once the pelvis becomes stable.
So to summarise, yes, walking is great form of exercise, however there are certain factors which need to be considered in order to make sure that it will work for you. The best way to ensure that it will be a safe and effective fitness option for you is to discuss your walking plan with your treating doctor/physiotherapist.