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Walking is probably the best form of exercise next to swimming, and it certainly is a more accessible activity. More than 50 million Americans walk for fitness and incorporate walking into their ordinary routines, such as going to work or to the store.
Once you start walking and learn to appreciate its convenience and benefits, it becomes second nature. It's a sport you can pursue for the rest of your life.
Walking offers all the fitness benefits of jogging and avoids the pounding on your body and the risk of knee or other joint injuries. When you walk, you transfer your body weight from one foot to the other, as distinct from jogging or running, where each stride transfers three to four times your body weight to the lower body. Walking is also highly effective protection against the bone loss of osteoporosis.
Brisk walking can bring you into the cardiovascular training range just as effectively as jogging, if you walk at a fast pace, and without excessive strain or fatigue. If you're out of shape, it's a painless way to start shedding pounds and toning up muscles. You burn about 100 calories a mile while walking briskly, which is on a par with jogging. The only difference is that walking takes a little longer to burn off those calories.
Walking is a year-round sport. Indoor walking enables people who might not otherwise exercise because of very hot, cold, or inclement weather to continue their routines. Many malls offer free walking time before shopping hours. Malls provide a flat, even walking surface and a climatecontrolled, comfortable environment without the obstacles of car or bicycle traffic or dogs.
And the only equipment you need is a good pair of walking shoes.
Walking is one of the few sports that doesn't require any prolonged warmup or stretching program. Walking is your warmup. And since you don't put much strain on your muscles when walking, you don't need to stretch them out first.
However, a good warmdown at the end of a walk is important. You should walk slowly for about five minutes to warm down and allow your heart rate to return to normal.
After warming down, stretch your Achilles tendons, shins, calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, trunk, and upper body, as illustrated in Chapter 1. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds and then switch to the opposite body part.
Some walkers develop lower-back pain. If you do, you should check the lengths of your legs. A difference in leg length is the most common cause of back pain in walking, as it is in jogging and running. This can be corrected by putting a lift in the heel of the shorter leg.
An ankle sprain is the most common traumatic walking injury and is due to walking on uneven surfaces. If you step on a stone or in a hole, you can turn over your ankle and sprain it.
The only other traumatic injuries associated with walking are getting hit by a car or cyclist or being bitten by a dog. If you fall, you may suffer cuts and bruises, but they are usually minor.
Because of the repetitive nature of walking and the high number of strides per mile, walkers may suffer lower-body overuse injuries. These include arch pain, stress fractures of the foot, heel pain, shin splints, and runner's knee.
All of these conditions can be alleviated by supporting the foot. Try a commercial arch support first. If that does not correct the problem, have a sports podiatrist make you an orthotic device.
Being overambitious when you start a walking program can cause an injury or lead to enough discomfort that you lose interest in walking. If you feel stiff and sore a few days into your program, you may give up. Walking too fast, too far, too soon has killed many people's motivation to get into a regular routine.
Don't worry about distance in the beginning. The total time walked is more important than the distance. Start by walking at a comfortable pace for about 10 minutes. Yes, you probably can do more than that, but do yourself a favor and don't try. When you are comfortable, increase your walking time by one to two minutes every other day until you are walking about 20 minutes.
Next, get in the habit of checking your pulse, and gradually increase your pace until you are within your training range (see Chapter 4). Once you are within your training range for 20 minutes and you have established the pace necessary to maintain your heartbeat there, gradually increase your distance as much as you wish. Go an extra mile or two at a comfortable pace, and don't push yourself. You should be able to converse comfortably while walking.
Women's race walking has gained popularity in recent years and debuted as an Olympic event in 1992. The percentage of body fat among women race walkers is approximately the same as that of elite women distance runners.
You don't have to be an Olympic-caliber walker to enter a race. More and more races are divided into age groups to allow participants to compete more closely. Most race walkers do it just for fun and fitness.
The rules of race walking require you to keep one foot on the ground at all times and to keep the knee of the supporting leg straight. You must learn a technique that entails rotating the hips and striding out while pumping your arms with your elbows held at 90° angles.
You can teach yourself how to race-walk with the help of a book or video, or your local health club or "Y" may offer a race walking clinic.
Hiking moves a walking program to a higher level. Hikers usually cover greater distances and expend more energy than walkers because the terrain is usually much more difficult.
Hiking has all the advantages of walking, plus it helps you attain a higher level of fitness because of the increased effort and longer exercise time. But most people can't afford the time to hike every day, and some can't hike year-round because of the climate.
Hikers have a much higher propensity for traumatic injuries than walkers because of the nature of hiking trails. Ankle and knee sprains are much more common because of the unevenness of the terrain. Upper-body and even head injuries can result from falls on rough terrain. In addition, carrying a pack can disturb your balance and cause a fall. Also, the abundance of branches and rocks on hiking trails leads to higher prevalence of scrapes and bruises among hikers than among walkers.
You can't do much to prevent these injuries except to be careful where you hike and to watch where you step. Don't get too carried away by the magnificent scenery. On the other hand, just looking at the ground while hiking isn't much fun, so you have to scan back and forth from the ground to the horizon.
Hikers have a high incidence of overuse injuries because of the long distances they travel. These are the same injuries seen among walkers. Runner's knee can be a severe problem because hiking downhill aggravates this injury.
The way to prevent these injuries is to wear a good hiking boot to protect the foot and an arch support or orthotic to control any abnormality in the foot. The new sneaker-weight, hightop hiking shoes offer just as much protection from sprains as the traditional heavy combat or hunting-style boots.
Almost all of the injuries from horseback riding are due to being thrown from, stepped on, or kicked or bitten by a horse. These injuries can range from simple bruises to serious fractures. Fatal head and neck injuries are also possible, and a movement is afoot in a number of states to make riding helmets mandatory.
One idiosyncratic injury seen infrequently among riders is the formation of huge calcium deposits in the lower buttock right where the hamstring muscle attaches to the pelvis. This injury occurs when the rider is thrown from the horse and lands flat on his or her buttock. This harsh landing crushes the soft tissues, causing heavy bleeding in the buttock. The buttock tissue can calcify, leading to permanent discomfort when the rider sits on a horse or uses the hamstrings.
Some riders try ultrasound treatments in an effort to break up the calcium deposits. Antiinflammatory agents can be used to ease the pain. The injury is usually not severe enough to require surgical removal of the deposits.
How to Improve Your Walking and Riding
Learning proper fitness-walking technique will help you get the most out of your walking program. Keep your shoulders relaxed (back and down), your head level, and your chin up. Align your shoulders directly over your hips with your spine straight. Bend your arms at the elbow at a 90° angle, keeping your fingers curled gently. Swing your arms like a pendulum with each step. Become more aware of your arms and the energy of the upper body as it powers you forward.
Strength is one of the keys to becoming a better rider. Upper-body strength will help you control a huge, very strong animal. Use the strength training program in Chapter 1. Hip strength allows you to squeeze with the knees to maintain your seat. You can strengthen the adductor muscles in the hip with an abductor-adductor hip machine, which can be found in health clubs. Or you can isometrically strengthen the adductors:
An inexpensive pair of walking shoes may seem like a bargain, but it may cripple your walking program. A good shoe is absolutely essential and may even correct some defects in the way your foot strikes the ground. A $40 or $50 pair of walking shoes from a reputable manufacturer is a worthwhile investment. Various manufacturers use different shoe lasts, so try on a number of brands until you find the one your foot feels comfortable with.
A good walking shoe should provide side-to-side stability and have cushioning in the midsole; a flexible, nonskid sole; and a strong heel counter with a low back tab.