Walk Your Way To Good Health

A thousand dollars for a treadmill. Fifty dollars a month for a gym membership. Is there a way to lose weight without losing your money, too?

The answer lies right at your feet: walking.

“Walking is just about the best health bargain around – fun, easy and absolutely free,” said Dr. Lloyd Smith, president of the American Podiatric Medical Association.

Walking for exercise is safe, easy and inexpensive and requires little athletic skill. Physicians say walking can help you strengthen your heart and lungs, improve circulation, boost your metabolism, improve muscle tone and reduce stress and tension. A brisk walk can burn up to 100 calories per mile, and if you walk at a brisk pace for a half-hour three or four times a week, you can lose about 10 pounds a year.

Walking is not strenuous and has few health risks. However, you should consult a physician if you are over 60 years old, have a disease or disability or are taking medication.

A checkup also is recommended if you are substantially overweight, easily fatigued, an excessive smoker or have been physically inactive for a long period of time.

Ready to get started? A podiatrist can help you plan a walking regimen. Here are some tips from the APMA on how to get the most out of your walking routine.

* Stretch. Stretching before and after your walk helps you improve circulation and decrease buildup of lactic acid, a chemical byproduct that causes muscles to ache.

* Start off slowly. Gradually increase the distance, time and pace of your walking workout. You run the risk of injury if you walk too far or too fast too soon. If you are just starting a regular walking regimen, stay on flat surfaces, avoiding excessively big hills and embanked roadways.

* Move at a steady pace. Walk fast enough to speed up your heartbeat and breathe deeply. Make sure to walk with your head up, your back straight and your abdomen flat. As you walk, land on the heel of your foot and roll forward to push off on the ball of your foot.

* Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water before and after your walk.

* Wear the proper footwear. Podiatrists recommend lightweight walking shoes with breathable materials and adequate support and flexibility. Wear thick, absorbent socks made of acrylic fiber.