Paul M. Thaxton, MD
7013 Evans Town Center Blvd · Suite 101 · Evans, Georgia 30809
706·922·1717

Walking: the Perfect Exercise

Walking is a great way to get exercise. Walking is easy, convenient, and inexpensive--all you need is a good pair of shoes. Nearly anybody can do it at any skill level. You can do it almost anywhere, anytime. Plus, it has the lowest dropout rate and injury rate of all exercise programs.

It will help control your weight, build and maintain healthy bones, muscles, and joints, reduce your risk of falls and boost your mood. Just 30 minutes a day can reduce your risk of dying prematurely and of developing numerous chronic diseases.

Make walking more fun by walking with a friend, walking the dog or listening to your headphones while walking. Enjoy being outside in the fresh air after a day of being cooped up in school or work.

Stretch first:
To avoid pulling a muscle, it is important that you do a few simple stretches before you hit the road. Walking works many muscles in your legs especially your thighs, calf muscles and buttocks. Walking up hills will work these muscles even more.

Put a swing into your step:

Pump your arms while walking to help work your abdominal muscles, as well as the muscles in your arms, biceps and shoulders. This also increases the heart-strengthening benefits of your workout.

How much to walk:
You should start slowly and gradually increase your distance and speed, especially if you haven't been active. Try walking two to three times a week. Set short distance goals and then try to improve them each week. Try to increase the number of days you walk a week, or walk a bit faster each week.

Safety factors:

  1. Stretch before you begin.
  2. Walk with a friend.
  3. Always tell an adult where you are going and how long you expect to be gone.
  4. Walk on sidewalks or on a track.
  5. Drink plenty of water before you begin and after you are done. If you will be walking for long distances, bring a water bottle with you.

Cold Weather Walking

Winter can be the perfect time to walk off weight, and sticking with your usual exercise routine is one of the best ways to boost your chances of starting the New Year fit and trim.

If you've gotten used to walking outdoors in the summer, switching to a different activity for winter can make your weight loss even more of a struggle. Finding a new activity may mean organizing your day differently or doing something that you're not as comfortable with--all during an already chaotic and stressful time.

Research shows that people who lose weight and keep it off do so by exercising the equivalent of walking 3 to 4 miles a day. No matter what the weather, they find a way.

Walking in the winter offers you a refreshing change of pace. The invigorating cold air can clear your mind and reduce stress, which can be helpful for weight loss. Research shows that stress can increase levels of cortisol, a hormone that may increase appetite and promote fat storage. Getting outside during daylight hours also increases levels of serotonin, a hormone that helps calm cravings. Even if you have to walk slower because of the weather, you may be burning more calories. And trudging through snow or walking into the wind takes more energy.

Winter weather requires some special preparation. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Allow at least 10 minutes to warm up. When it's cold, your heart and muscles need more time to get ready.
  • Wear a scarf or mask loosely over your nose and mouth to prevent the sting of icy cold air when you inhale. This is especially important if you have asthma or heart problems.
  • Choose shoes with lugged soles for traction, and buy an inexpensive pair of ski or walking poles to help keep your balance. (The poles will also help you burn extra calories because your upper body is getting a workout too.)
  • Take your workout indoors if you'd be risking frostbite (temperatures around -20 degrees F, including any wind-chill), if it's icy, or if you'd encounter dangerous traffic.
  • High-tech synthetic fabrics make a big difference in comfort; they're worth the investment. You'll be much happier and more energized if you're warm and dry instead of wet and cold.

Walking Exercises

How do you fit in your daily walk when the weather's bad, you're waiting for a phone call, or you've got a sick child or parent to care for--and no treadmill?

Do each exercise the recommended number of times, then move to the next one. Repeat the entire sequence two or three times.

Leg circles. (Keeps the hips flexible and strong) Holding onto a wall for support, lift your right leg out in front of you, bending the knee to form a 90-degree angle. Your thigh should be parallel to the floor, as if you're marching. Rotating at the hip, circle your leg to the right as far as possible. Don't move any other part of your body. Slowly lower your leg, then bring it back to the forward position again. Do 10 to 12 circles. Repeat with your left leg.

Hip circles. (Keeps hips flexible and mobile--especially important for speed walkers) Stand about 2 feet from a wall, with your feet shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing forward. Lean into the wall, and place both hands on the wall for support. Bend your knees slightly, and circle your hips clockwise, as if you're a belly dancer. Do 10 to 12 full circles, then rotate your hips counterclockwise.

Heel walks. (Strengthens the shins, an area that often gets sore when you resume walking, and helps with heel-toe technique) Walk by balancing on your heels only; your feet should be flexed and your toes pointing toward the ceiling. Do a lap around your living room.

Toe walks. (Strengthens the calves, and helps with heel/toe technique) Walk by balancing on the balls of your feet, heels off the floor. Do a lap around your kitchen or living room.

Windmills. (Keeps the shoulders flexible and agile--essential for a good arm swing--and trains you to keep your shoulders back and down) One at a time, circle each arm forward, up, back, and down. Alternate for 10 to 12 windmills with each arm, then reverse the direction.

For variety: Do the heel and toe walks with your heels or toes pointing a bit inward or outward--this targets the shin and calf muscles differently. You can also reverse the leg circles by lifting your legs up and out to the side first, then rotating forward and down. Also, consider adding aerobic clips such as climbing stairs or using the bottom step for a few minutes of step aerobics (pump up the intensity by adding arm movements).

Your thighs and butt have the largest primary muscles that propel you forward when you walk. Keep them strong with these three at-home exercises.

Step lunges. (Works the quadriceps, or front of the thighs) Facing a staircase, place your right foot on the bottom step and your left foot several feet behind you on the floor. Lower your body until your right leg forms a 90-degree angle. Make sure that your right knee stays over your ankle. Pause, then slowly return to the starting position, concentrating on pushing up through your right heel. Do one set of 8 to 12 reps before switching to your left leg.

One-legged curls. (Works the hamstrings, or back of the thighs) Lie on your back with your arms at your sides, your right knee bent, and your foot flat on the floor. Place your left foot on a standard-size kid's ball (12 to 18 inches in diameter). Supporting yourself on your back, arms, and right leg, raise your pelvis a few inches off the floor. Digging your left heel into the ball, slowly curl it toward you. Pause, then slowly push the ball back, resisting the ground as you roll. Do one set of 8 to 12 reps before switching legs.

Pelvic tilts. (Works the gluteus maximus) Lie on your back with your arms at your sides and your heels resting on a low stool, step, or box; your feet should be shoulder-width apart. Tighten your butt, and slowly lift your pelvis as high as is comfortable. Pause, then slowly lower without touching the floor. Repeat. Do 8 to 12 tilts.

Because the abdominals are core-stabilizing muscles used in walking, consider doing a set or two of crunches as well. And stretch all the muscles that you just worked. Doing any walking exercise will help you to stay in a routine--and keep your mind, muscles, and figure primed for springtime.

Try a Treadmill

Rather than skipping your walk if the weather's bad or when it's dark outside, you can hop on a treadmill anytime, even if you only have a few minutes. Plus, if your treadmill is in constant view, it serves as a visual reminder, so even if you decide to watch TV instead of exercising, being aware of your treadmill may make you less likely to snack.

A treadmill also takes the guesswork out of working out. You can be accurate on how fast and far you're walking, which allows you to better gauge your calorie burn and track your progress. Also, since walking is a natural movement, you may be more comfortable and better able to get a good workout than you would with an exercise machine that is unfamiliar to you.