Almost anyone can do it, and it’s one of the best paths to fitness and health.
“Walking can be done anywhere at any time, and it’s an excellent way to stay active and healthy,” says Serena Weisner, director of community programming for the Osteoarthritis Action Alliance (OAAA), a national coalition working to raise awareness and provide education about osteoarthritis. “Research has shown that walking regularly can help prevent osteoarthritis and help keep people in better shape.”
‘Walk With Ease’
The OAAA, headquartered at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is working with the Arthritis Foundation across the country to implement “Walk With Ease,” a self-directed program that lets people work at their own pace to increase their activity.
People of any age can experience arthritis. “There are more than 100 types of arthritis. Osteoarthritis can be improved by staying active and is most common in people in their 60s and older, but it can affect younger people as well,” Weisner says. “Research has confirmed that people who stay consistently active
tend to manage osteoarthritis more effectively than those who are sedentary. This is opposite of what many people believe. They often think that if their joints hurt, they shouldn’t move, but that’s just not true.”
Reap the good things
Walking has a number of benefits. It can strengthen muscles, which helps support joints and keep them better aligned. It can also improve cardiovascular health and blood pressure. Walking can also be a great strategy for decreasing stress.
“No matter what your fitness or activity level, starting a walking routine is achievable,” Weisner says. “You don’t need any special equipment other than a supportive pair of walking shoes; it’s an easy activity that you can do at your own pace; and it’s low-impact, so it is less likely to injure joints than higher impact activities like jogging or running might.”
“Ask yourself to identify your barriers to walking. Write them down, then take them on one at a time,” Weisner says. “If you say you don’t have time, work it into your daily routine bit by bit. For instance, park your car farther away from the store when you’re running errands or march in place when you are on conference calls. If you lack motivation, find a walking partner so you can inspire each other. If you’re bored, listen to music or podcasts to get you going. If you can’t walk outside, walk inside your home.”
“Walking is very individual. Start out slowly, perhaps only doing five or 10 minutes a couple of days a week, and build up your routine,” she says.
The best routine
Weisner recommends following Walk With Ease’s five-step approach for a good and safe walking routine.
“Your walk is more than the walking part,” she says. “For the first five minutes, do a slow warmup of your muscles followed by a few gentle stretches. Then walk at your own pace for your own amount of time. When you’ve finished, take another five minutes to cool down by walking slowly and stretch again. This will help prevent muscle soreness and reduce the risk of injury.”
For maximum effectiveness, build up to 30 minutes a day for five days. “This can be done in two 15-minute walks or three 10-minute walks. The goal is to eventually walk about 150 minutes a week to reap the greatest benefits.
“If you need to start more slowly or miss a few days or a week, don’t get discouraged,” she says. “Create a walking program that works for you and your lifestyle. The key is to start where you are, set achievable goals and realize that you’re doing a positive thing for yourself. It’s a good habit to get into that will give you long-term benefits for your overall health and wellness.”
Pamela A. Keene is a freelance journalist who specializes in travel, gardening, personality and feature writing.