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 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.
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.
Improper foot care can cause worsening of numerous medical problems of the feet, including:
Left untreated, these conditions can hamper your ability to perform daily activities, let alone walk for exercise.
“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.
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.
Find some creative ways to make walking a family adventure:
Visit our Healthiest Best Exercise homepage for more great ideas to work activity into your daily routine.