Too often I have the discussion with patients seeking to discover the exercise regime to which they adhere; only to find there is none. I stress about the benefits of walking with regard to cardiovascular health and circulation. I also stress the importance of having proper sneakers geared towards that.
Walking is one of the best ways to exercise which does not require any special skill or equipment. Additionally, it is low impact, low cost, and can be done either indoors or outdoors. The most expense is the cost of sneakers geared to it. Walking is critical for us all, but particularly important for those suffering with diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, poor circulation and cardiovascular problems.
What to look for in a shoe
The Fit – The first thing to look for in a walking shoe is the fit.
- I generally recommend to my patients to purchase their shoes later in the day, when their feet are the most swollen.
- Make sure your heel rests comfortably in the shoe, and does not pop out when you walk.
- Make sure the ball of your foot (the widest part of the foot), corresponds to the widest part of the shoe. Not all foot structures fit into all shoes.
- Make sure your toes do not hit the end of the shoe. This can be a particular problem if you are going to be doing a lot of downhill walking. The constant jamming of your toes into the end of the shoes, will cause problems to both yours toes and the nails.
The Weight – This is also important; the lighter, the better. Most shoes designed for exercise, are noticeably lighter than regular laced shoes.
The Sole – Make sure the sole or underside of the shoe is reasonably flexible, but not too much so. Both a rigid shoe and a shoe that is too flexible, will cause foot and leg strain. Ultimately your ability to walk is limited, especially for long distance.
Orthotics – Since shoes are designed for the “average” foot, but many people do not have average feet, despite buying a good walking shoe, some people may have to supplement their purchase with an orthotic. An orthotic will redistribute body weight throughout the foot, making walking more comfortable, and therefore more enjoyable.
Additionally, an orthotic prevents the muscles of your feet and legs from overworking, and for that reason, your legs will not tire as quickly.
Socks – If you plan to walk long distance, then the type of socks you wear should also be a consideration. If the socks are too tight, they cause constriction, and cut off the return blood flow from your feet, back to your heart. If the socks are too loose, they can bunch up and irritate your feet, and may cause blisters.
I generally recommend cotton socks as against nylon, as the latter tend to retain moisture. White socks are better. For those who have sensitive feet, you may look for socks with padded bottoms. There are also socks made with seamless ends, for those with sensitivity in their toes, or persons with diabetes or neuropathy.
Other Walking Considerations
Before you start your walk, it’s always a good idea to warm up beforehand. Two reasons: first to loosen up your stiff joints (yes, even walking can create injuries); and to increase the flow of blood to your muscles, enabling them to be more efficient, when called up to propel you.
Lastly, walk in a heel to toe gait at a comfortable pace. It is estimated that each stride of an adult places 900 lbs. per square inch of pressure on the bottom of the foot, so it is important to walk at a “good” pace.
Pay attention to your posture. When walking, stand straight and look forward, not down. Keep your head erect, your chin pulled in toward your neck, your back straight, and your stomach and buttocks tucked in. Do not lean forward, except when walking uphill, as leaning forward increases the risk of back strain.
Part of what makes walking so beneficial, is that when you’re walking, you can’t be sitting. Sitting for more than eight hours a day, is associated with a 90 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes, along with increased risks of heart disease, cancer, and other ailments.
For many years, exercise was promoted as the solution to this largely sedentary lifestyle, but research suggests it can’t counteract the effects of too much sitting. The more you move around, and get up out of your chair, the better. Research even shows getting up and walking around for two minutes out of every hour can increase your lifespan by 33 percent, compared to those who do not. According to research, the average person only walks between 3,000 and 4,000 steps per day, but aiming for 10,000 steps is a better goal.
Your feet mirror your general health . . . cherish them!