I recently moved to Atlanta from the New York metro area. In Hoboken, NJ, I didn’t have a car and had to walk everywhere — to get coffee, go to the grocery store, to see a movie. Everywhere.
Fast forward. I moved to a city where I have to have a car to get around town. And I gained 20 pounds.
I think we underestimate how much walking can do for our bodies. As I got back into an exercise routine and began walking to my yoga studio (a 12-15 minute walk), I realized how much better I feel when I get that exercise. Walking gets you outside, away from the computer and the video games and the TV. And it doesn’t have to be a lot; I usually only walk to the yoga studio twice a week. I’ve lost half of the weight I’ve gained, and I know I have to keep walking to lose the rest.
with advice from Virginia Davis, PT, MA
Walking is a low-impact exercise with many health benefits. According to Virginia Davis, a physical therapist and owner of Crescent City Physical Therapy (a Physiquality member in New Orleans), walking can:
- Lower your blood pressure
- Manage your weight
- Lighten your mood
- Strengthen your muscles
- Improve your aerobic capacity
- Reduce your risk of or manage type 2 diabetes
- Lower your LDL cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) while raising your HDL cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol)
In fact, research shows that regular, brisk walking can reduce the risk of heart attack by the same amount as more vigorous exercise like jogging.
Gee, is that all?
So the benefits of walking are easy to see. But how much should we be walking? Many fitness leaders have been citing 10,000 steps per day as the minimum we should strive for, but Virginia advises something a little higher: 12,000 to 15,000 steps/day for women and 15,000 to 19,000 steps/day for men. You can measure steps by using a simple pedometer. (If you want to buy one, consider the range of pedometers available from Physiquality partner Oregon Scientific.)
If you are just beginning your walking program, simply tracking your number of steps per day should help you to be more active. Virginia says, “Don’t worry about how far you go — just get up on your feet and walk as often as possible during the day. Movement is always better than not moving.” Once you have established a walking habit, then you can start working on improving your distance traveled. Once you can walk half a mile to a mile, Virginia advises increasing that distance over time, 3 – 4 times a week. After your distance has increased to 2 – 3 miles per walk, then she recommends focusing on your walking speed; a 2009 study showed that the pace of 100 steps per minute is optimal for fitness.
However, if you are sedentary or overweight, or if you have existing medical conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes, Virginia reminds you to consult your physician before you begin an exercise program. You may need to have your exercise program structured and monitored by a professional, such as a physical therapist, before you strike out on your own. Even if you think you’re healthy, if you haven’t seen your primary care practitioner in the last year, you should probably talk to him or her before starting a new exercise regimen.
Virginia also says, “Shoes are the MOST important gear for the walker! If you have a pair of old shoes, invest in new ones.” She reminds all walkers to be sure to wear comfortable footwear for walking, and to choose shoes with proper arch support, firm heel counter and flexible soles.
She also advises taking every opportunity to walk:
- Park your car at the back of the parking lot.
- Take the stairs.
- Get up from your desk every hour and walk up and down the building corridor at work.
- Take a lap around the building at lunch, or walk to a local restaurant.
Virginia sums it up in one word: Move!
Virginia Davis, PT, MA, is a physical therapist and owner at Crescent City Physical Therapy, a Physiquality network member in New Orleans, Louisiana. A foot/ankle specialist with more than 35 years of experience, she is also a board member of PTPN, the nation’s premier network of rehabilitation therapists in independent practice, and the parent company of Physiquality.
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For further reading, look through our selection of articles on walking, in addition to the below links:
Davis, Virginia and Amanda Matzoll. Walking highly recommended for seniors: Some things you should know. SeniorJournal.com, April 3, 2012.
Warren, Ellen. Skip the gym membership, get the pedometer. Chicago Tribune, August 3, 2011.
Warren, Ellen. Walking counts as exercise. Chicago Tribune, May 25, 2011.
Walking: Trim your waistline, improve your health. Mayo Clinic, December 18, 2010.
Nagourney, Eric. A pace for fitness: 100 steps per minute. New York Times, March 16, 2009.
Brisk walking reduces risk of heart attack in women. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, August 25, 1999.