Get the Most Benefit From Walking
The health benefits of walking are widely known.
It’s one of the easiest ways to introduce more cardiovascular activity into your life.
Because it’s so easy, though, people often take off with little thought to properly preparing their feet. And a lack of preparedness can quickly affect their next step.
The biggest mistakes
The biggest mistake people make is wearing ill-fitting or worn-out shoes.
“All too often, people pull out their old athletic shoes to start a new walking regimen,” says Peter Lallas, DPM, a podiatrist with EvergreenHealth. “When you increase activity with shoes that are already worn, it puts abnormal bio-mechanical stress on the foot that can lead to damage to the ligaments, tendons, or joints.”
Another common problem, he says, is trying to do too much too soon.
“Like any other exercise you start, you need to work yourself up to the level you’re striving for instead of trying to start at that level,” Dr. Lallas says.
What type of shoe do you need?
Dr. Lallas says it’s important to evaluate an exercise shoe to ensure that it provides proper support, particularly in the arch, and offers flexibility where the foot bends at the toes.
When choosing a walking shoe, you need to consider your walking path because the type of shoe you’d wear on pavement is different from what you’d wear on a hiking trail.
A shoe for the pavement should be lighter and have better cushioning, while a shoe fit for a hiking trail with uneven surfaces should support both your arch and your ankle.
Dr. Lallas recommends changing exercise shoes every 400 miles or eight months to ensure that they don’t become worn down where they can start to affect your feet or ankles.
Common foot problems
Improper foot care can cause worsening of numerous medical problems of the feet, including:
- Calluses: Dead skin cells that harden and thicken and are usually found on the ball of the foot, the heel, tops of toes, or the inside of the big toe
- Corns: Similar to calluses but also include cone-shaped cores with a point that presses on nerves; found on the tops, sides, and tips of the toes
- Bunions: Bone and joint deformity that protrudes toward the inside of the foot at the base big toe
- Hammer toes: A bending of the toe at the first joint
- Arthritis to big toe joint (hallux rigidus): Stiffness at the base of the big toe due to loss of cartilage
- Tendinitis: Stress and degeneration that can lead to a rupture of tendons in the foot or ankle, causing swelling and excessive pain
- Achilles tendonitis: Most common tendinitis of the foot and ankle; inflammation of the Achilles tendon that can cause a shooting or burning pain and lead to a weakened or ruptured tendon
Left untreated, these conditions can hamper your ability to perform daily activities, let alone walk for exercise.
When to seek help
“If there is pain during walking or exercising – or even in normal activities – then you should lay off the exercise for a week,” says Dr. Lallas. He also recommends elevating the foot and icing it or soaking it in cool water. If the pain persists after a week, it’s time to visit a podiatrist for a medical evaluation.
Finding walking buddies
Like any exercise routine, a walking regimen is more fun (and easier to maintain) when you have someone doing it with you. There are groups in the area where you can meet other walkers.
Eastside Fast Walkers is a walking group that also does other fitness activities periodically, including hiking, biking or kayaking.
Walking as a family activity
Find some creative ways to make walking a family adventure:
- The collecting walk: Choose items to collect ahead of time or gather what catches your eye as you go along.
- The counting walk: Choose something to count on your walk, such as mailboxes, a certain color car, a type of flower or birds.
- Letterboxing: Letterboxing is like going on a treasure hunt. Check out www.letterboxing.org to get started. The site lists clues, which will lead you to a letterbox in your area. Typically, boxes contain a rubber stamp and inkpad and, if you’re lucky, an extra reward such as stickers.
- Nature identification walk: Visit one of the area's many parks and have fun finding different types of trees, flowers and animals as you walk along the trail.