Three Ways to Walk for Health and Recreation
Walking is a great overall exercise that has benefits for your heart, respiratory system, muscles and overall fitness and stamina. The Walking Partners Program, an Institute for Preventive Foot Health Initiative in collaboration with the International Council on Active Aging provides three options for getting started or challenging yourself to move to a higher level. To get the most out of walking, make sure your feet are in the best possible shape. Practice good foot hygiene daily, wear shoes or sneakers made for walking and get the right fit.
Health walking is the foundation of the three styles and is equivalent to strolling at a normal, leisurely pace. Generally it takes anywhere from 16 to 30 minutes (maybe more) to complete one mile.
This kind of walking is an energy-efficient style that is particularly appropriate for individuals who are deconditioned, obese, arthritic or who are cardiac patients. Health walking is perfect for those who are just starting a regular walking program or for individuals who enjoy the opportunity to stroll and "smell the roses" along the way.
The most important aspect of all forms of walking is good posture. Proper body alignment forms the mechanical foundation for safe and effective walking and allows a person to function and perform efficiently.
The following are tips for proper health walking technique:
1. Head: The head should be held in a neutral position. This means the head is centered so that it is in line with the spine and not leaning towards the right or left shoulder. The chin should be parallel to the ground.
It is very important that the head be comfortably balanced with a minimum of activity of the muscles of the neck. While it may be tempting for walkers to flex the neck to see where they are going, it is just as easy and far more efficient to focus the eyes downward without lowering the chin.
To practice proper head placement, ask walkers to imagine they are balancing a book on their heads.
2. Shoulders: The shoulders should be down and back rather than rounded. It is important that the shoulders remain relaxed. Walkers can experience pain in the neck from holding the shoulders in an elevated position over an extended period of time. Tightness in the shoulders can also impair arm swing.
3. Chest: The chest should be lifted or expanded. A dropped or closed chest results in improper spinal alignment. A useful teaching cue is to ask walkers to imagine that they are being pulled up by a string attached to the sternum.
4. Abdominals and buttocks: The abdominal muscles should be gently contracted throughout the walk. In addition, the buttocks should be tucked under the hips. This creates a posterior pelvic tilt which helps to maintain proper alignment of the lumbar spine.
5. Arm action: Arm swing should be natural and comfortable. The elbows should be relaxed as the arms swing in opposition to the legs. The forward swing should never cross the center of the body, and for the sake of efficiency, the arms should swing close to the sides of the body.
6. Leg action: The length of each stride should be comfortable. Stride length will vary from one individual to another. Stride length is determined by leg length, hamstring tightness and pelvic rotation. A person with short legs, tight hamstrings and limited pelvic rotation will have a shorter stride length than someone with longer legs, flexible hip joints and greater pelvic rotation. Encourage walkers to find a stride length that is comfortable and efficient.