The Benefits of Walking & How to Get the Right Gear

We’ve all heard it before: staying active is one of the most important things we can do to stay healthy. For some, staying active means the kind of extreme exertion that comes with whitewater rafting or running the Boston Marathon.

For the rest of us, there’s walking.

That’s right, walking. Staying active doesn’t have to be complicated or involve lots of fancy gear. The right pair of shoes and half an hour can do your body a world of good. It’s the simplest fitness plan ever created.

The benefits of walking
When it comes to walking, most health providers recommend that you take a daily walk at a brisk pace, as if you were late for an appointment. But if speed isn’t your cup of tea, walking for distance can have equally good effects on your health.

Generally speaking, walking can help you stay at a healthy weight, strengthen your bones and muscles and improve your balance and coordination. Best of all, a regular walking habit can help prevent or manage conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes.

And that’s not all:

  • Keep things on an even keel. When you eat a big meal, it can wreak havoc on your body’s blood sugar levels and leave you feeling sluggish. The cure? You guessed it: a well-timed walk. Studies have found that taking a 15-minute walk after a meal is more effective at regulating blood sugar levels than a single 45-minute walk in the morning or in the afternoon.
  • Lift your spirits. A brisk, 10-minute walk can boost your mood for a full two hours. In a landmark study back in the 1980s, participants were asked to assess the severity of an ongoing personal problem, then take a 10-minute walk. After the walk, participants rated their predicaments as far less serious than they had before the walk.
  • Remember where you left the car keys. Walking can even improve your memory. A recent study showed that elderly people who walked for 40 minutes three times per week over the course of a year experienced an increase in the size of their hippocampus. (That’s the part of your brain that controls memory.) While the direct cause is still unclear, researchers suspect that increased blood flow may have had something to do with it.

How to choose the right gear
This all sounds great, right? Walking is an easy activity that we each know how to do. Time to hit the pavement and rack up the miles!

Well… not so fast. Walking is a simple activity, yes — but like all activities, performing it without the right gear can make you more prone to injury. Here’s how to choose the right gear.

  1. Wear & tear. Knowledge is half the battle, right? Before you toss those worn-out sneakers in the trash, flip them over and take a look at the treads. The wear and tear on them will tell you a lot about your gait — that is, how your body handles the mechanics of walking. You’ll be able to tell if your gait is neutral, with a lot of wear on the ball of the foot and a little bit on the heel; overpronated, with most of the wear on the inside edge of the shoe; or supinated, with most of the wear on the outside edge of the shoe. Knowing that will help you purchase a pair that gives your body the support it needs.
  2. The right shoe for the right job. Walking shoes come in several varieties that are specially designed for different types of walkers. If you’ve got weight concerns and walk with an overpronated or supinated gait, a stability shoe might be right for you. For people who don’t need motion control, consider a pair of lightweight performance trainers. And if you’re walking more than five miles at a time, look into cushioned shoes with some shock-absorbent padding.
  3. Avoid running shoes. Walkers have a different stride than runners and need different shoes. Walkers strike the ground with their heel and roll through the step to the ball of their foot, while runners may strike the ground with the ball of their foot or mid-sole. For this reason, running shoes tend to have built-up heels. But walking shoes shouldn’t have a high heel — instead, the heel should be no more than an inch higher than the sole under the ball of your foot. Also, walkers don’t need the flared soles that come with running shoes. Those are designed to provide runners with extra stability as they strike the ground.
  4. Fit is important. Your feet swell during the day. Keep that in mind when you head to the shoe store. Try to go shopping later in the day or in the early evening hours to be sure your shoes will fit properly.

The road to good health is just a step away. And luckily, there are several great walking options right here in Western New York.

In addition, most towns and cities have invested heavily in sidewalks and other pedestrian-friendly street improvements. Take advantage — and join the millions who are walking their way to good health.