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The oldest mode of transportation known to man, walking is more than
By Patrick Dougherty
“My feet are my only carriage”
The most laidback of active pursuits, walking is often overshadowed by its more outgoing cousins—hiking, jogging and running. But walking is the most inviting and accessible way to get exercise: It is a lot easier on the feet and joints than the faster-paced alternatives. Plus it has the benefit of requiring no gym membership or equipment, just the will to get out and about, and, of course, a comfortable pair of shoes.
Before you slip on your sneakers, however, you need to prepare for a new walking routine, particularly if you have been relatively inactive up to now and especially if you’re old enough for AARP to know your name. Vonda Wright, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center who teaches at UPitt’s School of Medicine, refers to people newly motivated for fitness as “sudden exercisers.” She warns that jumping into an exercise program without preparation can lead to arthritis flare-ups and injuries. That’s because sudden exercisers are “using muscles and tendons that they haven’t used before or for quite some time,” Wright explains, “and they end up sore or with a torn muscle.”
Ruth Bohlken, director of the Center for Physical Activity and Aging in Wichita, Kansas, says, “The key is to start slow, and progress on a regular basis.” Before starting a walking-oriented exercise program, Bohlken recommends wearing a pedometer, a small device that counts every step, to gauge your current activity level. In the first week, she advises wearing a pedometer from the time you get up until bedtime to determine how many steps you normally take. Then, for the second week, she suggests adding 10% to the number of steps averaged during the previous week, working the additional movement into your daily activities. This routine should continue until your average is 10,000 steps per day, which “seems to be the magic number” as a proper level of exercise, Bohlken says. She also recommends adding strength and balance training to your routine. “If a person doesn’t have the strength to get up out of a chair, they won’t be walking very far,” she says, “and if balance is impaired, they have a higher risk of falling.”